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  • Archive for August, 2013

    africanbluebasil2
    Ignore the old masking tape tags there….

    I started taking cuttings of my African Blue Basil in hopes of containerizing it for the winter and replanting in the spring. The plant won’t take a freeze, as evidenced by the plant I bought last fall dying last winter, so I thought I’d help continue on this plant’s existence in our garden by rooting cuttings. Since this variety of basil is sterile, it does not produce seeds and cuttings are the only way to continue its life.

    africanbluebasil

    Previously I had tried rooting them in water only to have the leaves brown in a few days. This time I just stuck them in the dirt and watered well for a couple of days and the plants have perked up and are doing great! I will likely take more cuttings later in the fall, but since I had to trim back the plant anyway a few weeks ago I decided to go ahead and try rooting them.

    africanbluebasil4

    As you can see the plant has done quite well over the growing season. In fact, I’ve trimmed it back a few times as it was overtaking a couple of other plants that I didn’t want it to shade out. Our honeybees and other pollinators have thoroughly enjoyed it and I don’t think I would garden without it in the future. Perhaps a plant near the bees and another plant out in our vegetable garden where our herb beds are planned sounds like a good idea.

    africanbluebasil3
    Readily accessible for the bees. (Which by the way, remind me to tell you the story about the bee stinging me near my eye if you haven’t already heard it on Facebook.)

    purplerufflebasil2

    This basil is a ‘Purple Ruffles’ variety that I’ve enjoyed having in the flower garden too. Not only could I eat it if I wanted it adds a great texture and color to the garden. I’m definitely one for intermingling my herbs with my flower gardens!

    purplerufflebasil1
    You can see some creeping thyme below the basil and Gaillardia x grandiflora in the background.

    African Blue Basil is a must for your garden!

    compostbin

    As I was putting plant materials on the right side of the bin yesterday evening I thought that I’d post a short update on how the composting is going. You can read how it was built and what it looked like when it was started for a frame of reference.

    As you can see we’re adding to the right now and the left has reduced considerably. The left was having difficulties getting going but an addition or two of grass clippings from my dad (thanks Dad!) helped speed things up this summer. Paired with regular watering and turning, I think we’ll be able to use the left side in a few months. Let me tell you about those grass clippings: they were hot! We’d dumped the clippings on top of the pile and let it sit for awhile and one day I went to turn it and could feel the heat radiating off the pile. It wasn’t quite like the first photo here, but you get the idea…very warm! That site also has good information on hot composting, which isn’t what we’re doing, though I do want to try to get a little better about being somewhere in the middle between cold and hot composting. Unfortunately that will require me to search out greens more, meaning driving around in neighborhoods on weekends looking for bagged clippings. I’ve done this before, but sometimes I wig out and worry about encounters with people wondering why I’m taking their bags of grass clippings. Plus, you have to be a little wary about chemical use on those clippings.

    So, the left side is breaking down well and the right side is still being built. I did add three bags of pine needles I got from the side of the road in a neighborhood last weekend and then last night I attempted to clean out some vegetation down at the pond and put that on top of the pile. When leaves start falling around here in a month or two that will be a good time to get more browns (carbon) to add to the pile.

    I love that it is situated right out of our back door and close to the kitchen so I can dash out while I’m cooking and toss kitchen scraps in. Chris put in the water hose a month ago and now it is even easier to throw water on the pile. The feral cats outside will sometimes go in and scavenge; I’ve found avocado pit out in the middle of the garden before that they’ve carried out. In the winter I saw them cuddled up there for warmth.

    There’s no shortage of information on composting online, so do some research and start your own pile.

    ducks1
    The waterbody we live on is named a lake but really it is more of a pond. There’s another pond adjacent to this one with a few other houses on it as well and it also has a lot of wildlife. Here you see a single roseate spoonbill and a plethora of black bellied whistling ducks.

    ducks2
    The ducks are very fun but noisy. Sometimes I can hear them inside my house at 11pm or later, just whistling away! I have no idea what they are up to at that hour, but so they are sometimes. (OK, according to multiple resources they are nocturnal feeders. There ya go!)

    ducks5
    I took a few shots of them wading on the mud flat (which normally isn’t a mud flat, thank you drought conditions) before wandering off down the way to our deck on the pond. Something spooked them and they took off, flying around in circles over the pond a few times before returning to where they had been.

    ducks6

    ducks7
    Covertly, I got behind my neighbor’s Chinese tallow that is just on the other side of our property boundary. It worked as a good blind to watch them as they flew in for a landing, but we need to talk to her about helping her cut that invasive monstrosity down.

    ducks8

    ducks9

    ducks10

    ducks11
    This time I spooked them!

    spoonbill
    The lonely spooonbill. This is the first time I’ve seen a spoonbill on the pond which makes me curious if it will stick around for the long term or if it was just a stopover.

    ducks12

    ducks13

    ducks14

    ducks3

    ducks4

    blueheron
    This great blue heron was much more spooked than the ducks were, flying off before I even got close to the edge of the pond, honking in protest as it flew away.

    egret6
    A great white egret, likely one of the birds that roosts on our trees sometimes. I’ve got random feathers all over my yard as proof.

    chickadee
    And a finally the tiny bird I sought out as I was laying on our deck on my back. I am by far not a birder but I heard several small birds making noise and zipping from tree to tree when one landed above me. The black head made me think of a black-capped vireo, but as I was typing those words into my search bar Google was trying to offer me suggestions, and black-capped chickadee flashed across. With that in my head I decided to Google the chickadee after the vireo. The vireo photos didn’t match what I had seen so I went off to search the black-capped chickadee, which after seeing the photos made me get excited that I’d identified it. However I also knew of the Carolina chickadee, but not really remembering or knowing what it looked like exactly I thought I’d Google it to compare. Oh boy! They are practically identical!

    chickadee2
    You can see a comparison here between the two, but because I didn’t get very good identifying shots I’m not really sure. However, if I go by their range maps then likely what I’ve got are Carolina chickadees.


    Here’s a video of the ducks flying by.

    So, backyard birding…it’s pretty good!

    mulberry

    Just a few trees and plants are beginning to work themselves into fall foliage changes. Some are just calling summer ‘done’ and switching over to hibernation in favor of not putting up with the drought any longer. The ones that are truly beginning to turn colors are the mulberries like the one in our backyard.

    mluberry2
    I remarked on Sprout Dispatch that I’m really enjoying this change, this tip of the switch between seasons. I am ready for Autumn.

    mimosa
    Puttering about the garden the other day I found the mimosa tree still putting out blooms. I’ve seen hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies enjoying the nectar from the flowers.

    grasshopper
    Walking near the edge of the pond I scared up many grasshoppers, their wings moving them out of my vicinity.

    commonwhitetail
    I finally identified this dragonfly species that we have in our yard, the common whitetail, Plathemis lydia.

    mistflower
    Conoclinium coelestinum

    ruby2

    And Miss Ruby saying hello.

    Here’s a short video of our windchimes we got for our our anniversary this year. I’m planning on getting a picnic table for under the tree too.

    Florida Trail 090

    Writing is hard.

    Much more difficult than I imagined.

    And it’s not like I’m writing a completely made up fiction story here, I’m writing about something I actually did.

    Two years ago, late summer 2011 at about the same time of year it is now—the sun adjusting its position in the sky, the flora preparing for a time of rest—I decided I’d write about our thru-hike of the Florida Trail. Back when we started on the Appalachian Trail in March of 2010 I’d decided before the hike that I was not going to go into the hike with the intent on writing a book. There were already a lot of books on the market then and I didn’t really feel I had something special to share (though my opinion on that has now changed) and so I didn’t keep a very detailed log along the way of what we did. Sure, I wrote here and there in a little journal, but mostly I’d blog when I got to a town and then of course I wrote up a more detailed overview of the hike after we were home that Fall of 2010.

    And then we went on the Florida Trail and in the back of my mind I had the inklings that I wanted to write a book about it. I fought the idea for awhile after, still not thinking it was useful or worthwhile to do. Again, I didn’t exactly have some kind of monumental story. But, you know, not everyone has a monumental story when they go hiking through the woods. A story doesn’t necessarily have to be monumental, does it?

    I began writing about our hike on the Florida Trail and I thought, “Hey, this will be pretty easy, I’ll have it wrapped up by the end of the year!!” Hahahahahahaha! Funny, right? Mix my undisciplined self with my multi-tasking creative mind and throw in everyday life and you have me still writing this book two years later.

    I’ve been writing in fits and spurts. It was a bit more disciplined in the beginning and then it was weeks or months before I wrote again. This summer I’ve wrote somewhat consistently, if you can call it that, but a little bit of something every few weeks. I definitely feel as if I do better writing in huge chunks at a time, pounding out words on the keyboard for a few hours, than I do devoting an hour a night to writing a thousand words.

    Writing about walking in the woods is tedious sometimes. Not every day is exciting and sometimes it is impossible to translate feelings of a moment into words on a Word document. (Yes, for you writerly types who are advanced in other writing software, I haven’t progressed that far yet. I’m also too far in to switch, I think.) How can I tell you the gloriousness of the sunshine dappling through the pine trees in the Ocala National Forest paired with the aroma of the pine sap and needles heating up from the forest floor? What about the thoughts I was thinking as I was looking down at my feet, watching the trail for tripping hazards as I felt the sun on my face and those smells? How can I even begin to get that out? I don’t half of the time, or even most of the time.

    There’s also something that bothers me, the thought that this is going to be the most boring thing ever. EVER. And of course that goes against what I’m trying to accomplish here, to put more literature out about the Florida Trail to entice more people to hike this trail. There’s only three (maybe four) other memoirs about the Florida Trail out there, compared to the dozens and dozens on the AT. Even the PCT has more than the Florida Trail, I’m sure the CDT does too.

    Currently I’m writing this as a very first person, almost journal type way. There’s no dialogue. That’s something that’s baffled me and I’ve brought it up to two other writers I know, how do people writing memoirs write dialogue? I mean, it can’t possibly be 100% accurate. On the Florida Trail I did a nightly recording into a small voice recorder that I will use to fill in gaps in my memory after I’ve written the book, but that’s it. I didn’t quote any discussions that we had with anyone we hiked with or encountered. And on one hand I just don’t care if I don’t have dialogue, its my book whether it gets published or not.

    I guess I’m writing this to say, yes, I’m still writing this danged book if you even knew I was writing it. It’s hard. I’m not disciplined. Walking in the woods can be uneventful sometimes, even if you are enjoying the moment; it is difficult to put those feelings into words, the uneventfulness of what backpacking can be. You get up, you eat breakfast, put the tent up, pack your pack, walk a few hours, take a snack break, walk a few more hours, eat lunch, do the same morning routine for the afternoon, then eat dinner, relax for a bit, and then hit the sack. And some days that is broken up with things that are exciting or dramatic, but most days it is just that, filled with all of these moments and feelings in your head. Of course, it is life, just life in a different format. And life isn’t always filled with events, is it?

    Currently I’m at about 71,000 words and am finally heading west on the trail instead of north. I’m about to write about the nasty, nasty rain day where we were soaked through our clothes in a combination of sweat and rain by lunch, right before we got to White Springs.

    Now, that was an eventful day.

    miraclefruit

    Our miracle fruit tree (Synsepalum dulcificum) is looking a bit like Christmas with the deep red fruits decorating the tree and contrasting greatly against the lush green leaves, like lights at Christmas. I went and checked on them last night and pulled this handful off the tree and there are several more that have ripened today that I will go pick in a bit. Nothing like a fresh lemon eaten after gnawing on a few miracle fruits first! Mmmm!

    I’m going to save a few seeds for our friend Christine who requested some to start and I think I’ll plant the others so maybe we can have a little grove of miracle fruit. And by grove I mean they will have to be in a container to be moved inside during temperatures below 40*. Unfortunately we’re just not warm enough to over winter them like we were in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami.

    cibolocreek16
    I’m trying to finish going through some photos from Memorial Day weekend when we went to the Texas Hill Country. The first part of the weekend happened to be a little rainy. One of those days we stopped by Cibolo Creek a place we’d been to before three years ago when we did a Texas road trip, camping at various state parks from the Panhandle to the Texas coast. The nature center had changed a bit since we’d visited, a new building for nature education was built and the road entrance was improved considerably.

    cibolocreek15
    While the creek itself was flowing rather lazily at the time we went, there was evidence of the recent rains with vegetation still flopped over from the rush of the water.

    cibolocreek14

    cibolocreek13

    cibolocreek12

    cibolocreek11
    Someone had been working hard to build a fort. Pretty cool!

    cibolocreek10

    cibolocreek9
    The cypress lining this creek are rather large, giant even.

    cibolocreek8
    Chris had to do a little dance to get his shoes back on, which I thought was funny enough to photograph.

    cibolocreek7
    A view of one of the trails; we didn’t explore much of the area because we were trying to get over to Kerrville to visit the native plant nursery there before they closed.

    cibolocreek6

    cibolocreek5

    cibolocreek4

    cibolocreek3

    cibolocreek2

    cibolocreek1

    cibolonaturecenter
    The nature center buildings.

    oddmexicanhat
    The native plantings around the nature center were interesting and we found this very strange Mexican hat with four, well, I’m not sure of their technical terms, central disks. I wonder what caused this mutation? Or is it something else entirely?

    I really love this area and would love to explore more than the little bit we did down by the creek, maybe even walk the creek another time.

    Over the weekend a friend of mine had a snake in her yard which she ended up killing due to its being near where her dogs were located. She didn’t know if it was venomous or not at the time and later posted a photo of it which her friend identified as potentially a rat snake, to which I conconcurred it likely was. Now, I’m not writing this to pick on my friend, but it really was a bit of a tipping point for this post to be written as I’ve read several different items from other people in the last year about snakes being killed by people who felt that ‘A good snake is a dead snake’, or perhaps the perceived threat is not nearly as great as they believed it was.

    So, this is my rant…snakes aren’t the foes we’ve been taught to think them to be.

    coral3
    Coral snake found in my yard last year. No, we didn’t kill it and haven’t seen it since, though I did see a small coral snake on a road in my neighborhood that had been run over.

    Part of the human freak-out factor about snakes is how we’re raised and taught about snakes. They are the villain in Disney movies and snakes are almost unequivocally symbolized as evil, part of this going back to the Garden of Eden if you are raised in any of the Christian denominations (I’m not sure about other religions, anyone of another religion care to pitch in about snake portrayals in your religion?). There’s even potentially an evolutionary explanation, but then again maybe it’s just something we’re taught.

    Now, outside of the U.S. and in the tropics there are definitely a few more snakes to be more wary off, but here in the United States there’s only a handful of the 100+ species to be concerned about (unless you are in south Florida, and well then, you’ve got your own problems. Pythons I’m talking about you. And Green Mambas. And Anacondas. But I digress. Yes, Miami you are your own little world.). And even then most states maybe only have one or two venomous snakes to worry about.

    Before I go further, let’s talk venomous vs. poisonous. Snakes, if they are, they are venomous NOT poisonous. Venom is injected into your skin through a bite; if you eat something and it makes you sick that is poisonous (ie: that shady mushroom you misidentified while foraging).

    snake2
    Chris holding a rough green snake while on a hike.

    First, it is good to know what species of snakes are here in North America. This site is a good place to start. This site lists venomous species by state and includes subspecies of rattlers, cottonmouths and other species. Next, learn what you might see in the habitat by you. If you live in suburbia you are less likely to be running into a rattlesnake than you would a garter snake. If you live near water, even a pond in suburbia, you could run into a cottonmouth or a non-venomous water snake (Nerodia sp.). If you plan on walking near a pond, watch where you walk near tall grass and poke a stick in the grass to make your presence known before entering to go fishing or any recreational activities near water. If you see a snake, move on somewhere else down the shore, don’t kill it.

    There’s a great chance that if you see a snake once, you will probably not see it again unless it is nesting somewhere in your yard or if you have a healthy population of food for it to feast on (rats, mice, other rodents), and in that case maybe you do want it around. If it is a non-venomous snake and not posing a threat, leave it alone. If it is venomous consider trapping it yourself if you are comfortable and confident with it (but let it be known, this is when a lot of bites occur) or having someone else trap it and humanely release it. Of course having piles of wood or overgrown grass and shrubs can attract snakes, and wood piles especially provide a desirable shelter for them. Removing the piles or being cautious when working around these areas can reduce unwanted snake interactions.

    Living in a rural area of course provides the greatest opportunity for having a snake encounter. This is where a mind-shift has to take place and understanding that you are sharing habitat with other animals, even if they are a little close for comfort. Definitely consider keeping a trap on hand if you know you are likely to see a venomous snake instead of going for the immediate reaction of killing it—unless of course its a life threatening situation—but if it isn’t, assess the ability safely to move it to another area if possible. You should also keep in mind that there are both venomous and non-venomous snake species that are protected either by state or federal laws, so if killing it isn’t necessary to protect someone (human or otherwise) you love, think twice before doing it.

    A Google search has shown me multiple snake trapping methods, none of which I can really vouch for as I’ve not used them, but you can check them out for yourself to determine which might work best for you. The only time I have seen some kind of trap used was using one of the snake poles and putting it in a cloth bag to release elsewhere. And if you are squeamish about trapping one yourself, go ahead and see if there are any snake removal experts in your area and keep the number on hand, especially if you’ve seen snakes in your area before.

    I don’t expect people to go running to snakes and wanting to hold them, I’m certainly not, but I do want people to start thinking twice about encounters with snakes and start removing the initial reaction of killing a snake because it is a snake. I’ve taken to doing this myself with spiders that I find in the house, attempting to capture them and put them outside instead of instantly squashing them. I’m just like most people, not overly fond of snakes and spiders on me, but I can certainly appreciate them for what they are and leave them be in instances in which they are not causing harm to me or anyone else.

    With declining populations of snakes worldwide, its time to start educating ourselves on how not-so-scary snakes actually are, at least in the United States. Of the approximately 2500-3500 (I’m also seeing the numbers 7,000 to 8,000 on other sites, so I’m not sure what is correct) snake bites annually in the US, only about six people die every year from a venomous snake bite. Of course if you look at the first link in this paragraph you’ll see that the statistics do go up for those living in the rural tropics where access to antevenom is not available.

    So, with all of this in mind, be aware of your where you live, where you are hiking or exploring, and learn to identify snakes in case you encounter venomous species. If the snake is not venomous and causing no harm, leave it alone. If it is identified to be venomous and you are uncomfortable with removing it, please attempt to have it removed professionally before killing it. The timber rattlesnake has potentially been extirpated from several northeastern states and is protected in others. The eastern diamondback is being considered as a potential candidate species for the USFWS endangered species list, and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake is also a federal candidate species.

    Some interesting links I came across while writing this:
    +CDC Venomous Snakes
    +What To Do About Snakes: Humane Society
    +Are Snake Populations In Widespread Decline?
    +Sharing A Rural Farm With Snakes
    +Snakes Populations Show Worldwide Decline
    +Avoiding Snake Bites
    +Two Rare Southwest Snakes Species Proposed for ESA Protection
    +Snake Decline Likely In America, Too

    And my helpful hint: If you are on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, don’t stow your boots under the shelter unless you want to enjoy a timber rattler curling up next to them!

    I’ll leave you with the video of an eastern diamondback that I walked up on while on the Florida Trail in January of 2011 in Big Cypress National Preserve. Thankfully it let me know it was there and we stepped back and of course shot a video with zoom. I tried to find the video of another large diamondback we encountered in another area of Big Cypress but couldn’t find it. It was on a buggy trail then and a little more troublesome to get around, the first diamondback I’d ever seen. I remember it as being quite giant.

    For the uninitiated into what kombucha is, here’s a run down.

    kombucha
    Last week when I was at my parent’s house for my grandmother’s funeral I mentioned to my brother and sister-in-law that I wanted to try their kombucha. Stephanie, my SIL, had received a ‘mother/SCOBY’ as a present for her birthday. They’ve been happily brewing kombucha ever since! Now the SCOBY has split enough that she could share so I was gifted a jar of fermenting tea and SCOBY. Last night was my night to pour it into Ball Jars and flavor it how I wanted and start a new ferment. I opted to keep the new ‘baby’ with the original mother that was started for this batch until I can get a second jar to have two batches going simultaneously.

    kombucha1
    Of course at 10pm when I was boiling water to get this whole thing started I realized that I was out of sugar! Sugar is what the SCOBY feeds on so I made a late night visit to Walgreens hoping they had sugar, which thankfully they did. Next time I will not do this process at 10pm, it took too long to wait for the tea to cool down, I had to throw it in the fridge and toss a bit of ice in it to get it down to room temperature so I could just go to bed!

    Anyway, I poured off two quarts of the original fermented batch and flavored that with a peach in one and then hibiscus flowers in the other. I had about a pint left so I poured that off and stuck it in the fridge to sip on while I waited for the flavored ones to ferment for a few more days. Kombucha at the store is on the pricey end and I only get it as a treat now-and-then so I am excited to have my own brew going now! I’m glad my bro and SIL shared!

    egret5
    We’ve had a group of Great Egret’s starting to roost around the pond and sometimes they come to hang out in our trees down by the water. Of course now this makes it difficult for me to photograph without scaring them off, which is what happened last night. I managed to get a few half-decent shots of them flying around.

    egret4

    egret3

    egret2

    egret

    egretfeather

    argiope
    I spotted this Argiope spider hanging out in the overgrown vegetation along the pond and rethought my plans of cleaning out the vegetation along the shoreline. I was planning on trying to remove some alligator weed and few other overgrown plants to clear up the edge a little so that some of the plants we’ve planted could get a chance. Royal ferns, spider lilies and a few others are being choked out by the aggressive vegetation.

    rubycalie
    Of course it isn’t a trip around the yard without some cats to follow you around.

    callie

    tom4
    Tom got a wild hair and decided that climbing the cypress tree looked like fun.

    tom3

    tom2

    tom

    ruby
    He then enticed Ruby to do the same thing and she didn’t get nearly as far up before turning around.

    littlecallie
    Little Callie (not to be confused with her sister Callie) snoozing on a tree stump.

    fred
    And the always sad looking Fred. Sweet little dude.

    Maybe I’ll try again tonight for better bird shots, it was overcast last night from a few stray t-storms in the afternoon.

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