Friday, September 30, 2011

Ally Draws My Portrait

Ally's been really having fun doing artwork lately. She likes to draw at the dining room table while I cook dinner. I see a lot of construction paper, markers, glue, and glitter in our near future. Santa might even bring her a whole box of art supplies.


Earlier this week Ally came home from school and announced that she was going to draw a picture of me. She pulled out her supplies and diligently got to work. After about a half hour of intense concentration, this is what she showed me:


"Ta-da!" she announced as she gave me the picture with a flourish. "This is you with your fat stomach in a Hokie dress."

"Uhhhhh, what are those things on my arms, Ally?"

"Those are your bandaids 'cause you were bleeding."

This is the first time Ally has drawn a picture of me, so I should feel flattered. At least my purple legs are nice and skinny.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wingstem and Goldenrod

Yesterday I posted a series of pictures of yellow flowers. I included the perennial sunflowers in the garden, and the wingstem and goldenrod that grows wild in the pasture. I should have included the Jerusalem artichoke that's also in my gardens, but somehow I missed taking pictures of them in bloom this year.

All of these species have lovely yellow flowers. Both the perennial sunflowers and the Jerusalem artichokes (or sunchokes, as my maternal grandmother called them) are members of the Helianthus genus and look very much like small versions of the annual sunflowers.

Goldenrod and wingstem are also perennials and grow abundantly in our area. Usually their flowers aren't much to look at close up, but they color the roadsides and old fields with a sunny yellow in mid-September.
If you notice, the petals are very ragged on these flowers. I assume they unfold from the buds that way as I've never seen any wingstem with nice, neat petals.



Many people consider wingstem to be a weed species in trashy areas. You can read more about wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia, and goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, on the Virginia Tech Weed ID website. Just don't tell our pollinators that these plants are weedy: wingstem and goldenrod serve as an important nectar source for many insects in late summer, including the familiar honeybee and bumblebee.



Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Letter to Myself to be Read Next March

Dear Self,

No doubt you've already gotten tons of gardening catalogs in the mail and you've been drooling over the possible choices for the garden since January. I'm here to remind you of a few things.

1. For God's sake, please reconsider planting more than 30-40 tomato plants next time! We had more than 60 plants in 2010 and we lost the battle of keeping them picked too early in the season. Yes, I know we planted that many just in case a tomato plague came around and wiped out most of the crop, but ya know what? Nary a plague appeared and the plants all did just fine. Pick a couple of varieties and then put out no more than 10 of each variety. Trust me, it'll be okay.

2. Yes, plant Sungold tomatoes again! Yeah, Sungolds are a hybrid but you can't beat that sweet taste. Be sure to get another black tomato, maybe Black Krim. Brandywine was good, but stingy on the yield. Tigerella was good, but they're pretty small. We want some larger tomatoes next year for sandwiches. Subartic Plenty doesn't have the flavor of other varieties, but you were still picking them in late September. Just remember to check the seeds you have leftover before ordering more!

3. Thou shall keep the tomatoes staked and the paths between rows mowed.

4. And put fencing up for the damn beans even if they are considered bush beans. They'll run all the way over to Radford again if you don't.

5. Remember you're gonna have to rotate the garden around this year. No planting the corn right where it was last year and the Jarrahdale pumpkins don't like being so far away from the sprinkler.

6. Yes, plant corn and okra again next year. And the tomatillos need more room.

7. And then we come to the peppers. Fooled You jalapenos are tasty and safe for the non-heat seekers in the family. The anchos are also good, mostly mild with only a little heat. You need to include a hotter variety for the salsa, though. Again, don't plant so many next time. They all did really well and they're prolific as bunnies.

8. Reconsider your fear of the pressure canner. You can't just make jelly out of everything, and you need a pressure canner to make just about anything else.

9. Speaking of which, repeat after me: I will not try to use those rock-hard, unripe little green tomatoes in any recipe from now on. Any recipe calling for green tomatoes is referring to green tomatoes that are soft and have lots of gel in them. The other ones are bitter and have an awful taste to them and you can't disguise that flavor no matter how much sugar and spices you use in that chutney, cake, or what have you. You might as well go ahead and tell your family and friends that you regret having inflicted them with that flavor while you're at it. Blech! I don't know why we didn't realize this sooner, but go forth and sin no more.

10. Unless we've signed up to grow pumpkins again for Ally's school, plant half the pumpkin patch with Jarrahdales and the other half with a pie pumpkin. We got over 100 Small Sugar pumpkins but the flavor wasn't nearly as good as we had hoped. Maybe try those Rouge vif d'Etampes pumpkins that look like Cinderella's pumpkin next time?

Really, that's about it. We had a great garden in 2011 and we'll probably have another great year in 2012. Some years the pumpkins are the star, some years it's the peppers that steal the show, but it's all good. Just remember to till early, apply the compost early, and then till again before planting. Stake the tomatoes, fence the beans, and keep everything picked to keep those yields coming in!

Your Self

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I meant to post this picture this week for Wordless Wednesday, but the week got away from me.


These are the fruit of a Korean dogwood. They look like alien space pods. Even better, they're edible. Really. The USDA states, "Fruit quality poor to fair."

The one I tasted didn't have much flavor, which might be a good thing, as the Wikipedia article on the genus Cornus states that the dogwoods in the genus that includes the Korean dogwood are "...mildly toxic to people." Guess I won't be taste testing these again. (Sorry, Mom, but the USDA said I could!)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fun and Game Cameras

I gave Steve a game camera for Christmas last year. It's taught us a lot about the fauna around our house.

For instance, you get a lot of mundane shots when you set the game camera up beside the driveway.


This is just us in the car, unless a deer took it for a joyride one morning while we we're still asleep.


Sasquatch shovels the driveway.


A night shot of nothing.


Then the batteries died, probably because we took hundreds of shots of the cars going up and down the driveway. Months passed before we replaced the batteries and moved the camera over to the side of the yard.

Now we got hundreds of shots of Steve mowing the lawn.


Then we had proof that there is wildlife around our house. A crow.


Then, months after setting up the camera, we finally had photographic evidence of the deer that hang out in our yard at night.


'Cause, ya know, seeing them out there all the time in the yard and in the driveway just wasn't concrete evidence that we really had deer.


I think this may be a shot of our resident young buck. I recently saw him with his new antlers. He looks like he's a 4 pointer.


Another shot of Steve mowing our now dry lawn.


Then we moved the camera out back. We started getting more shots of interesting subjects when we set a bucket of water near the camera.

This may be a bird or a grasshopper flying close to the camera. I'm tempted to submit it to one of those cryptid zoology sites that show out of focus shots of Bigfoot and chupacabras. "It's clearly a flying rod!"


Another crow.

And then we got more deer.




Then the batteries died in the camera again. I'd like to get the camera set up again soon. This time I'd like to place it where we could take pictures of Sugar Booger coming and going. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want to know that there might be more than two bats out there.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Holy guano, Batman!

Late yesterday I decided to go ahead and can the tomato sauce I had been cooking down all weekend. It had scorched a little on the bottom while I wasn't watching it, so I'm not sure if you could call it "fire roasted" or not. And while I was going for tomato jam, it might be barbeque sauce or perhaps spicy ketchup. Context is everything, even in the kitchen.

To gear up for canning a vat of tomato product after Ally had gone to bed, I went ahead and drank a cup of coffee around 5 pm. I hardly ever drink coffee that late any more, but once upon a time in grad school I could imbibe a lot of coffee round the clock without any ill effects. I have fond memories of going to the JFG Coffee House in downtown Knoxville at 11 pm and getting a bowl of a latte and a slab of red velvet cake, followed by another bowl of latte, and then getting back to our little UT-subsidized slum apartment and instantly falling asleep when I got to bed at 2 am. And when I woke up at 6:30 am, it was like someone had thrown a switch and I was instantly awake, ready to churn out another 10 pages of my master's thesis. Caffeine was my drug of choice and it was largely responsible for me finishing my degree. (Of course, three weeks after I graduated I learned that I had no fewer than six cavities in my mouth, so perhaps my graduate lifestyle was more about survival than proper health.)

Anyhoo, I got my jam/sauce/ketchup canned and went to bed around 11 pm. I promptly realized that those little caffeine molecules were still careening around my system and they had no intention of slowing down enough to let me sleep anytime soon. Eventually I dropped off and landed into some weirdly fantastic dreams that seemed plausible in the dark but make no sense now. I'd dream, then wake up, fall asleep and dream some more. I remember jolting myself awake to a screechy female voice saying something that sounded like "I won't take the responsibility again!" and not being quite sure if it was from my dream or I had actually heard someone talking. Back to sleep again. Then I awoke to hear what sounded like someone  running their hand over the screen door and immediately afterwards I heard that godawful soft whuff-thwup-whuff-thwup of bat wings in the bedroom. Oh, Sugar Booger.

Same scenario as last time: wake up Steve, scoop up the dog, evacuate the bedroom. Go out on the deck, open the screen door, and hope the bat flies out of the bedroom by morning. Steve went upstairs to sleep in the guest room and I shoved the dog down to the end of the sofa and slept there.

That screeching noise I heard? I think it might have been made by the bat. I also think that the sliding noise I heard was Sugar Booger pushing past the "fur" fringe on the edge of the screen door that normally would keep out bugs and bats and things like that. We'll be closing the sliding door at night until we can find a firm, rubber gasket to install on the screen door. Would I have heard any of those noises if I hadn't been hopped up on caffeine? Would I have been awake enough to figure out Sugar Booger's secret passage way? Who knows?

Clearly we're dealing with no ordinary bat. Also, sometimes a late cup of coffee can be an asset.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bats in the Belfry

Okay, okay, when I was wishing for a fresh start with September I should have specified that I didn't want coyotes at 4:30 am or a bat in the house at 5 am.

This morning, the first of September, we woke up being serenaded by a pack of deranged banshees. It's the second or third morning in a row that I think I've heard the coyotes, but I wasn't fully awake the previous mornings to confirm that yes, that unearthly howling was indeed Canis latrans. Several of them, in fact. Steve and I mumbled something about country life and were on the verge of falling asleep when a weird whiffling noise began swooping about in the air above the bed.

"Uh Steve?"

"What is that?"

"There's something in the room."

"A moth?" Steve suggested hopefully.

By then I knew exactly what it was but didn't want to say it in a way that might encourage panic. "Nooooooo, I don't think so. I think it might be a bat."

Being nearsighted as a bat myself, I was reaching for my glasses on the nightstand when Steve said he saw the creature. "There's something swooping outside the screen door. It's outside."

"Are you sure?" I could have sworn that the soft whuff-twhup-whuff-twhup noise of bat wings had been right above my head.
"Yeah. There it is again."

Reassured, I stop reaching for my glasses and laid on my stomach, hoping to catch some more sleep before having to get up for the day. Silence, and then whuff-twhup-whuff-twhup filled the air again.

You can only imagine the panic that ensued. "Bat! Bat in the house! It's inside! Grab the dog! How'd it get inside? Bat! Out! Get out of the bedroom! Out! Out! Now!"

Steve scooped up Oscar and we hurried into the living room, shutting the bedroom door behind us. We stood in the kitchen and discussed what to do next. I convinced Steve to just open the screen door that leads from the bedroom to the back deck and let the bat find its own way outside. There was no sign of a bat in the room when I checked it an hour later.

And then we heard later that there was another aftershock measuring 3.4 in magnitude outside of Mineral, VA, this morning at 5:09 am. That was probably just us trying to get the hell out of the bedroom before the bat escaped into the rest of the house. Or maybe the coyotes were trying to warn us of an impending earthquake and that's what all that howling and yodeling was about at 4:30 am. Who knew they would be so thoughtful?

So before anyone can start asking about the R word, yes, I'm aware that bats can carry rabies. Some people advise that any bat found in the house should automatically be tested for rabies. We probably would have if we had actually caught the thing, just to be on the safe side, but the mere presence of a bat in the house does not signify that it was rabid. The bat was acting perfectly normal for a bat that wandered inside a house. We were not attacked and we have no bite marks on our bodies.

As of August 11, 2011, there were a total of 391 confirmed cases of rabies among tested animals in Virginia, according to the Virginia Health Department's website. Of those confirmed cases, 16 of the tested animals (or 4.09%) were bats. (In comparison, raccoons, skunks, and foxes represented 48%, 25%, and 14% of the cases respectively reported in 2011 as of August 11.) Other potential health problems associated with bats include histoplasmosis and bat bugs, but in reality, I probably took a greater risk to life and limb by driving my car through Radford this morning.

How did the bat get inside the house? We're not exactly sure, but Steve did discover a gap under the fascia boards above the bathroom window which might have been the entry point. It's now thoroughly caulked up.

Are we letting Sugar Booger 1 and 2 still roost outside?


Yes. I like bats and I'm comfortable with them roosting under the eaves outside as long as we don't have more than 2-3 out there.

Are we going to bat proof the house? Yes, as much as possible. I don't want a colony living inside the house. But bat proofing is really just an ongoing maintenance job that began last fall when we decided that we didn't want the mice and flying insects spending the winter with us.

Are we hiring a professional company to do any of this?


Um, apparently not. (I should point out that this jerry rigged bat barrier is only temporary and not a permanent solution. On the other hand, MacGyver would have been proud even if this temporary fix does not involve the use of a gum wrapper.)

What will we do if we find another bat in the house tonight? Probably panic.