Sunday, October 28, 2012

Deer Encounter

It is a beautiful frosty morning here at Windy Acres.  The sun is coming up, warming the earth and melting the frost that has accumulated over night.  As usual, I took my morning cup of coffee out on the south porch to sit in the sun and enjoy the quiet of the morning.  I do this most mornings no matter what kind of weather, even if it is just for a minute or two.

Sally, our dog, is always eager to go out with me.  This morning while I was sitting there in the sun soaking up its warmth, I noticed her staring intently toward the garden.  So, I stood up to take a look myself.  There were 4 deer out beyond the garage near the compost pile.  They were apparently grazing on Tom's cover crop of Austrian winter peas, and Sally and I had interrupted their breakfast.

By the time I saw them, they were already alerted to our presence and were standing statue-still staring back at us.  I ran inside to get my camera and was able to capture some pictures of them.  I really need a better camera to get good pictures at a distance like this, but I was able to  get a few decent ones.  Here they are.

Notice how well this deer blends in with the background.

This is a youngster, probably a fawn born this spring.  Here it is getting ready to jump the fence.  You cannot see the fence very well, but it is where the tall grass is.  It is amazing how easily these deer appear to sail over obstacles, like this, with ease!

Across the fence is a gravel road.  This deer cleared the fence, crossed the road and is headed for a clump of cedar trees.  I think they use this grove of cedars for shelter because I've seen them enter/exit the grove many times.

Also notice how they hold their tail erect when they are alarmed.  The underside of the tail is bright white, giving them the name "White-tailed Deer".

Even though deer are plentiful around here, it is still a rare treat to see them during daylight hours and be able to observe their movements.  As for Sally, she issued a couple of minor barks and didn't bother to follow me out to the garden to take pictures.  It was a little chilly and I think she thought I was nuts for wanting to traipse around outside on a frosty morning in my house-shoes, when I could just as well be inside in the warm house.  Dogs are so practical!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

First Fox

Although we have captured many pictures of deer, raccoon, opossums and the occasional coyote on our wildlife camera, we've never  captured a picture of a fox.  That all changed this past week when we caught this image of what is obviously a fox.

When we lived in town, foxes were regular visitors to our neighborhood.  I assume this was because we lived on the outskirts of town where there was a creek about a half block from our house.  So, when we moved out here to the country, I naturally expected to see foxes here as well.  Yet, even though there is a creek just down the hill and across the fence from our house, we have never seen or captured a picture of a fox out here ......until now.  

After doing some research, I think I know the reason for this.   Wikipedia says, "Although the red fox tends to displace or even kill smaller predators, it is nonetheless vulnerable to attack from larger predators, such as wolves and coyotes".  It also states that in areas of North America where red fox and coyote populations coexist, fox ranges tend to be located outside of coyote territories and that interactions between the two species vary in nature, ranging from active antagonism to indifference. Where coyote and fox ranges overlap, there is competition for food since they have near identical diets.

We never saw coyotes when we lived in town.  But, as you have seen in some of the wildlife camera pictures I have posted, we do have coyotes.  And, although I have never seen one out here, we hear them often at certain times of the year.  Usually this is in the evening, right before or after dark.  They do not howl, like wolves, nor bark, like dogs.   Instead, they make high-pitched "yipping" noises and it seems there are always several.  This will go on for a couple of minutes, then all is quiet again.  It is as if they wake up to go hunting and have to get themselves all worked up first by yipping and carrying on like this!

They seem to move around quite a bit, as well, since when we do hear them, they sometimes sound far away and other times they sound as if they are just across the fence near the creek.  For some reason, the sound of them makes me feel uneasy.  I'm not sure why because they generally fear people and steer clear of interactions with humans.   Perhaps it is something left over from the days when humans lived alongside these animals in the wild and had to compete with them for food.  Or, maybe it is just me.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lettuce Share (with the deer)

After dropping out of our local farmers' market for 2 months due to the heat and drought, we were ready to go back this past Saturday.  Tom had collard greens, turnip greens and radishes ready to go.  And, I had arugula, some fresh herbs (spearmint, peppermint and parsley) and some "micro" greens.  Micro-greens are just very young greens that are harvested when they are  only a few days old.  They are excellent to sprinkle on salads and to stir-fry.

We had planned to take our first fall lettuce as well.  Here is what it looked like about a week ago.

But a couple of days after this picture was taken, Tom went out to find that our friendly neighborhood deer had been helping themselves to it.  Here is a close up picture of what a section of it looked like after they had nibbled on it.

However, all is not lost.  Lettuce will regrow after it has been cut off like this (either by kitchen shears or by deer) and I'm happy to report that it is regrowing nicely.

In the mean time, Tom has taken the cattle panel sections that we were growing the gourds on this summer and has made a "tee-pee" structure over the lettuce to protect it from the deer.  

Hopefully, they will not try to reach through the metal bars to sample the lettuce again.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

They're Baaaaaack!

It's that time of year.  Time to start feeding the deer and put out our wildlife camera again.  Tom set up our deer feeding "station" a couple of weeks ago and it did not take long for the deer to find it.  After just a couple of days we were getting pictures of them every night.  There appear to be 3 or 4 that come regularly.  Generally, they come in groups of 2 or 3.

Sometimes they are alone at the feeder, but usually there are others close by.

Occasionally, they arrive before dark.  They really are beautiful animals.

This year there is one young buck that appears to have a hurt leg.  Notice in the following pictures how he always holds one hind leg off the ground.

We've observed this deer several times when he came to the feeder before dark.  He limps quite badly.  Perhaps he was hit by a car and injured.  My heart goes out to this poor creature and I wish I could help him.  But, my head tells me that this sort of thing is just part of the life cycle of these animals and I have to let "nature take its course".

At any rate, this got me to wondering how long deer usually live and I found the following interesting comment on a forum on the Field and Stream website:

"We had several deer that were penned up over several periods during the last 50 years that we did studys on by the DNR that I worked for. The oldest that any buck lived was 12 years with ideal food and nutrition and the 12th year the buck was a disgusting sight to look at. The antlers were deformed spikes and the deer had nodlues all over its body. The does were mostly the same. 9 to 10 was mostly the longest the deer made it with ideal situations. I doubt that deer in the wild will live that long because as someone said their teeth will wear out before 10 years and they won't be able to eat. After 7 1/2 years of age the deer start to really go down hill fast. This was done in the mountains of WV here in the East. A study somewhere else in the US may give different results but I doubt that the results will vary greatly."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Weather Changes

The summer started out okay this year with the first half of June being fairly nice with high temperatures in the 80s and 90s.  Then toward the end of June the triple digits began to appear. 

Toward the end of July we were experiencing daily highs in the 100s.  The heat streak reached a climax on August 1 when the high temperature was 113 degrees the highest temperature ever recorded here in Stillwater!  It was simply awful.

Finally toward the middle of August, things began to cool off.  We had a "cold front" come through on August 18 that dropped the high temperature down to 79 which felt down right frigid after the heat we had experienced.  After that things were "bearable" with temperatures again in the 90s.  I was hoping the triple digit temperatures were gone until next year.

But, the first week of September, the heat monster raised its ugly head again and we had highs in the 100s again.  Then on September 8, we had another cold front come through and we've had mild, pleasant days ever since with highs only in the 80s and even a few 70s.  And, I began to feel alive again!

You may wonder how I kept track of the high temperatures and the days when cold fronts came through.  No, I do not have a log where I record all this.  But, I have found a wonderful website that I think I have mentioned before:

I was looking forward to a pleasant fall with the weather gradually turning cooler.  I really did not expect a frost until well into November.  But, on October 7 & 8 we had low temperatures of 32 and 29, respectively.  This caught us unprepared.  And, honestly, I'm not sure there was much we could have done to protect the plants that had survived the heat of the summer.  

Here is some of the aftermath of the frost.  It is pretty gruesome.

The Basil Patch

A Castor Bean Plant

Now the weather is again pleasant with beautiful fall colors beginning to appear like these:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

New Cat

We have a stray cat that is hanging around.  We've been without a cat for a couple of months.  Marmaduke, the cat I wrote about here

has disappeared and  I really miss him.  We adopted him from someone who had rescued him from a bad situation.  He was an outside cat.  We tried to keep him inside, but he would sit at the door and yowl.  He just did not like being inside.  And, besides I am allergic to cats and realized pretty soon after we got him that we would not be able to keep him inside.  

Even though he lived outside, once a year we captured him and bundled him off to the vet to get vaccinations and a health checkup.  He seemed to be happy and content and carved out a territory that seemed to include about half of our place, along with our neighbor's sheep shed and out buildings.  He came and went as he pleased.  Sometimes he was very friendly and other times he kept himself aloof.  Sometimes he would disappear for a couple of days, but now we have not seen him since April.  

I like having a cat around.  So, I was very excited when one evening a few weeks ago, I heard a cat outside yowling.  Upon investigation, I found a half-grown gray and white cat.  He was very skiddish and I couldn't get close to him.  I opened a can of tuna and put that out for him hoping it would encourage him to stay around.  The next day Tom set come cat food out and he has been hanging around. 

Here are some pictures of him.

He has some competition from another gray and white cat that is older and bigger.  We suspect this cat belongs to one of the neighbors because we've seen him around before, even while Marmaduke was here.

Tom brings the self-feeder inside at night to keep raccoons and the like from coming around.  We learned a lesson about that when we had Marmaduke.  See the following blog entry about 
the Thief in the Night:

I've been calling the new cat a "him" while Tom calls him a "her".  We really need to figure out how to catch him/her and get him/her to the vet.  If "he" is a "she", then we want to get her spayed and, of course, either way we want to get him/her vaccinated.  Wish us luck.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Apple Cider

Our neighbors have an apple tree.  It is not coddled like a lot of fruit trees.... not watered this summer or sprayed.  It is just an old, tough farm tree that has been able to survive the hot, dry summers on its own without any help from humans.  Perhaps in better years it produced better quality apples.  But, this year I think it was lucky to be able to produce any fruit at all due to the drought and triple digit temperatures.

At any rate, the neighbors told us to help ourselves to whatever apples were on the tree.  Here are some of them.

These are some of the better looking ones.  Most of them are small and have blemishes, like the one in the upper right of this picture. 

I bought a juicer that I found on sale a couple of months ago.  I used it once this summer to juice some beets and carrots and decided I would give it a whirl making apple cider.

You do not have to peel or core the apples.  You just feed them in whole!

The debris from whatever you are juicing collects in the clear hopper on the left and the juice comes out the other side.  It is sort of like a food processor.  The food goes in the top and a plunger is used to push it down into the blades.

The top comes off so you can remove the hopper and dispose of the debris.  We put it in a bucket and Tom fed it to the chickens.  They loved it!

Since the apple juice is un-strained, it looks cloudy.  I put it in a sauce pan and heated it to boiling to kill any bacteria that might have been on the apples.  Then I added some brown sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. 

Next step was to pour up a cup and enjoy!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bees on Basil

Most of my basil has gone to seed.  If you quit picking it, it will do that.  And, I quit picking it because we decided to drop out of the farmers' market during August because of the heat.  Here is what it now looks like.

A couple of days ago, I was out there looking around and doing a little fall cleanup.  I kept hearing this buzzing noise and figured out that it was coming from the basil patch.  Upon close inspection, I found there were hundreds of bees after the small basil flowers!  Here are a couple of pictures I took of them.

This picture also illustrates the way the basil flowers grow.  The plant puts up a long flower stem around which the flowers bloom.  The flowers are not very big as you can see, but the bees appear to love them.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gourds Revived

On August 28, I wrote an entry with some gruesome pictures of what the hot, dry summer had done to our gourd patch.

As you can see in those pictures, most of the vines appeared to be dead except for a few hardy specimens that were hanging on to life by a thread.  I collected all the gourds that were dry enough and have stored them in one of our out-buildings to cure.  

Since then the weather has cooled considerably and we've had some rain, not nearly enough to get us out of the drought, but some at least.  And, I have been amazed to see what a difference it has made.  

Here is a picture of our gourd patch now.

Upon peering under the vines, I even found some new "babies" growing.

They are covered by a soft "fuzz" when they are young like this and they are edible.  However, since they were not bred for your dinner table, they are not as tasty as gourds that have been developed for consumption.

Gourds are a routine part of the cuisine in many parts of the world.  Here is a website that sells seeds for some popular gourds gourds for eating.