Sunday, August 11, 2013

Save the Figs, Save the World

A man and his figs shall not be separated
We moved into our house three years ago and the centerpiece of the backyard is a 60-year-old fig tree that fruits green Adriatic figs every August.  My husband, Ken, loves those figs and has passed on his affinity to our children.  I, on the other hand, am not so enamored.  Nevertheless, over the past few years, European Starlings (the bastard scourge of the avian kind) flock in the fig tree, peck the ripe fruit and deprive Ken of the bounty that is rightfully his.  

Crime scene #1
Crime scene #2

Never mind that even with the birds, harvests have been plentiful.  
Never mind that we give away a good amount of fruit.  
Never mind that a pound of figs is about $6 at the store.  
Oh no--Something must be done to thwart the interlopers!

In our initial two summers here, Ken's made admirable attempts to quell the siege and keep the birds from claiming the precious fruit.  He's used reflective tape, full-size stuffed scarecrows, blow up dolls, a bobble head owl and a bird trap baited with suet.   But all of these eventually failed because the birds got used to them.  It got to the point that he resorted to the "running-outside-to-scare-the-crap-out-of-the-birds" maneuver which also inspired disapproving looks from our neighbors.  But this method only worked when someone was watching---and of course no one has time to watch the fig tree all day long.  

Operation Fig Shield 
So Ken was determined that this year would be different.  Clearly he had just not used enough technology in his earlier attempts.  He spent the majority of his two weeks off this summer trying to design and prototype a functional solution.  He aspired to build a "thing" that would vigilantly watch the tree and detect when these loathsome bandits appeared.  Then it would trigger something that would scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting birdies.  This posed a complex challenge since he wanted (and I demanded) something that would be more than just a motion sensor.  

Ruining a perfectly good Tupperware
Ultimate Garden Ornament

Ken decided to build his program on the small, cheap and powerful platform of the Raspberry Pi.  There is a lot of "magic" that goes into getting all the parts to work together but simply put, the system identifies and knows the difference between an enemy bird, an errant branch waving in the breeze and a 3-year-old child (or exasperated wife) passing through the garden. The program knows what the "normal state" of the tree looks like and then triggers the deterrent only for an avian interloper and nothing else.  The deterrent is a small leaf-blower with a "wacky wavy inflatable arm-flailing tube man" duct-taped to the nozzle which fires off for 10 seconds as the birds scatter with fright.  


You've undoubtedly seen these at your local Jiffy Lube.  Ken had this one made at 1/3 of the scale.  Initially this was placed on the garden path attached to a dolly but to really increase its effectiveness, it's been recently strung up in the tree with some bungee cords.

Scaring birds all day long

There's also a manual trigger (that we've been mostly using because the system is still learning) that we can access via a URL and just push a button on our phones or laptops to set it off.  I won't lie, seeing those little vermin with wings bolt out of the tree makes me smile with delight--and I don't even like figs.  An added bonus is that our small berry patch located at the foot of the tree receives protection from the birds by proxy.

Is it about the figs or is it about vengeance?

Success disaster: now we have a lot of figs that we didn't plan on.  (Sidney can only eat so many.)  One of Ken's co-workers has volunteered to make some jam.  And yet we still have a lot left over so Ken has been giving some to the neighbors after regaling them with this story at the Block Party last week.   I think we should have arranged this supply chain part better.  Farmers Market?  Foodie Friends?  Restaurants?  He says there are still 50 on the tree--so if anyone wants some this week, please let it be known.


ruby said...

First of all Ken, no one can fault you on follow thru. Your obsession has some definite payoff.
Second, contact fig growers, and check out the market for making a prototype.
Third, Kali my sides were splitting as I read this. Once again you praise the man (justifiably!) and make for some truly hilarious reading.
Once again, you prove that you're a great team: Ken for your invention and Kali for getting the story out there!!

Danny V. said...

You guys are awesome! I guess frustration at nature is the father of invention. And K, your telling of the tale made me mad @ those pesky little fig peckers too. Idea for excess figs: shelters or food banks, Freecycle/Craigslist, talk to produce buyers @ Ballard Market, Top Banana about buying your overage, area restaurants, produce sellers in Pike Place Market, etc.

Keep up the good work, you two.

Diana O- said...

Saw this recipe on the Not Without Salt Blog and thought of you 4!

Gardenmakers Northwest said...

Oh god I LOVE FIGS!!!!!!!!!!!!