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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Organizing Fishing Tackle (Blog Twenty-six)

Come spring, one of the most common topics covered in the outdoor magazines is the need for fishermen to organize their tackle in preparation for the warm weather period.  I never read those stories because they seldom cover anything new.
For the past week or so, though, I have been organizing fishing tackle in our basement, a room which has just this month been finished, even though Elaine and I had the house built in 1989.  Elaine has instructed me "not to junk up" our "new" basement, which, truth to say, I plead guilty of doing to the old one.
It's just that as an outdoor writer, companies have for years sent me all kinds of fishing and hunting related gear to try out, much of it extremely useful but, alas, a high percentage of it pure, unadulterated junk.
For example, one of the worst items I have ever received was emu oil.  The press release guaranteed that the oil, when rubbed onto the skin, would prevent sunburn and when applied to fishing lures would provoke huge bass to strike...utter nonsense on both accounts.
Holding down second place are the freeze dried deer droppings that once came in the mail.  The instructions were for the user to sprinkle this deer crap around a hunter's tree stand and then wait for the big bucks to come rushing in.  Although I tossed the emu oil in the trash can, I hurled the freeze dried deer droppings into the woods behind our house.  Perhaps big bucks arrived that night, I don't know.
The fishing lures have now been organized, the basement is now looking good, and Elaine is pleased with my diligence.  And she and I are going trout fishing as soon as the water levels drop just a little.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time to Garden (Blog Twenty-five)

Saturday, I planted white onion sets, potatoes, and spinach in our organic garden.  But before I did so, I harvested the last of the 2010 crop, specifically the onions that I had missed picking last year and that had sprung up this spring.  It is always a nice bonus to have fresh onions, which we will dine on today for lunch with grilled venison tenderloin.Every spring, I silently vow to make the coming garden the best one ever.  But every year, something (work schedule, drought, pestilential insects) derails this quest. So I recently contacted friend Paul Hinlicky, who always has a superb garden, for his advice.

"Mulch," was the first word Paul said.  "Put down a layer of newspaper. I usually separate out all the
glossy, colored stuff  used for advertisements and use only the basic newsprint.  On top of that I put mulched leaves/compost which will decompose over the summer until it can be tilled into the ground in the fall.

"If you don’t have that, you can buy some old hay, small bales are easiest to manage. People will give away old rotting bales. Just spread them thickly over the newspaper. I go for 4 or 5 inches of mulch, because it will decompose over the summer. Mulch holds in the moisture so you rarely have to water. It suppresses the weeds. And it enriches the soil. How can you lose? I also use grass clippings from when I start to mow the grass. Lots of times neighbors bag their grass clippings and put them out for trash. Of course, when you sow from seed you can’t mulch until the seedlings are up and viable, then carefully so you don’t smother them, here grass clippings are best because you can tuck them right in to the little shoots.
"But for transplants like peppers and tomatoes, do the newspaper and hay. Or, if you have trouble getting
 the tomatoes to ripen before the fall, use black plastic which soaks the heat in, which tomatoes and peppers just love. The other thing I love to do is till in horse manure. Best fertilizer in the world."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Birds Are Back (Blog Twenty-four)

One of the wonderful things about March is that this is the month when some of the migratory songbirds start to return to our Southwest Virginia property.  Last week for the first time this year, I heard a phoebe singing, calling out its name, "phoebe, phoebe, phoebe," in continuous bouts of energetic tune making.  Also last week, I heard my first grackles of the year.  Although the whistlings, croaks, and squeaks of grackles are not particularly tuneful, the sounds were still a harbinger of spring.
Of course, some species have been in fine form for some time now.  Great horned owls have been doing their hooting since January, mourning doves have been uttering their plaintive notes since February, and tufted titmice have been singing "peter, peter, peter," since early March.  Two weeks ago, the Carolina chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, which often travel in mixed flocks with titmice, began singing as well.
The woodpeckers are also becoming more vocal and are drumming as well.  For example, a pileated woodpecker on Saturday was making its "cuck, cuck, cuck," sound, when another pileated began to drum on a dead tree.  This set forth a whole series of drumming sounds from different parts of our 38 acres and nearby properties as well.  The sap is starting to rise as are testosterone levels in the avians. 
And this morning in the hollow behind our house, a tom turkey was gobbling, and every time he did so, a gobbler on the back end of our land responded.  Is a fight between the two a certainty?
I anxiously await the arrival of other songsters as well.  Within a fortnight, I expect towhees, pine warblers, and chipping sparrows to arrive.  Perhaps we will even have some temporary spring  visitors such as hermit thrushes make an appearance.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tree Planting Time (Blog Twenty-three)

This past week, Elaine, our son Mark, and I planted 100 white pine seedlings to replace the Virginia pines that a logger harvested in December.  The Virginia pines were over 50 years old and many of them were diseased and others had already fallen.  It was simply time for them to be cut and for the next generation of trees to begin.
This coming week we should have another shipment of white pines arrive, this one consisting of 250 seedlings, that we ordered from the Virginia Department of Forestry.  Those trees will be planted on the back side of our 38-acre property, again to replace a cut Virginia pine thicket.  And the remaining seedlings will be taken to our 83-acre tract in Gap Mills so that I can continue reforesting a part of that property, specifically a badly overgrazed pasture that I added to the tract last July.
Our "new" pines in a few years will provide needed cover for small game animals such as rabbits and hopefully ruffed grouse, and in a decade or so should provide the beginnings of a bedding area for whitetails.  In 15 or so years, perhaps the aptly named pine warbler will be among the species nesting in the treetops.
In a fortnight or so, we will receive a shipment of four persimmon and two paw paw trees.  They will be planted in the food plot behind the house.  All of these activities will be hard work but the actual labor is very satisfying and potentially very good for wildlife.