Sunday, July 28, 2013

Garden Update: Summer's Bounty

Since I last did a garden update, just a little over a week ago, things have taken off. The green beans have slowed down, but the tomatoes have taken their place. Canning season has started with our first batch of tomatoes today. I have also been making half sour pickles with the cucumbers from the garden (This isn't the recipe that I used, but it is pretty close and the method is nearly the same).
We have so many cherry tomatoes that I wound up drying nearly five trays of them to make "sun" dried tomatoes. Since tomatoes have a lot of water and also have fairly tough skins, they take a long time to dry (over 24 hours).  We have red and yellow pear tomatoes and sun sugar golds.
This one wound up a little dark, but this morning, I cut up all of the large tomatoes we had picked to can them. We have Brandywines, which are a very tasty, meaty pink tomato, and Cherokee Purples, which are a dark red-purple tomato. Both are heirloom tomatoes.
We canned 6 1/2 quarts of crushed tomatoes this morning.
 Our first sweet corn.
Our first ripe watermelon! After picking one too early a few weeks ago, we were a little scared to try again, but we were rewarded this time with a very sweet melon.
An interesting bug on our tomatoes this morning. It looks a little like a wasp, but doesn't have the narrow waist that wasps typically have.  Any ideas (click to enlarge)? Thanks to the anonymous commenter who identified this critter as a Robber Fly (Asilidae family), another beneficial garden insect.
The lone sunflower that survived the groundhogs. This is a Mexican sunflower and is about six inches across.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Skyline Drive Sufferfest: Big Meadows Edition

We got up crazy early on Saturday to go ride Skyline Drive through the Central District of Shenandoah National Park. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and, although the forecast wasn't ideal, we figured there was a greater chance of them late in the afternoon. I basically just accepted that we were going to get wet. We started riding south from Thornton Gap just after 8 a.m. The ride south to Swift Run Gap went by pretty quickly and seemed relatively easy after the initial five mile climb. It turns out that the ride back north is the harder direction. By the time we rode into Big Meadows (48 miles in), we were both out of gas.  Lunch, cold drinks, and a little bit of rest made life better and the rest of the ride went pretty well. The Central District is a nice, beautiful ride. There is also more traffic than in the North District (our usual Shenandoah ride) because there are more visitor facilities, campgrounds, and lodging there. We had a great ride, though, and it never did rain. Final stats: 68 miles and 5800 feet of elevation gain.

Pictures from my phone:
Old Rag from Pinnacles Overlook at milepost 35. 
Looking west from the bridge over US 33 at Swift Run Gap.
Big Meadows in the afternoon. While we ate lunch, we watched a guy flying a large kite over the meadow. Sadly, my phone isn't a good enough camera to have captured it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Garden Update: Tomato Hornworm Edition

Our garden is coming right along. The corn is something like 11 feet tall now. We are still getting lots of snap beans. The cherry tomatoes are slowly, but steadily producing and, tonight, we got our first paste tomato. As I mentioned in my last post, we had friends visiting this past weekend. She noticed a tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemanculata) on one of our Brandywine tomatoes. She picked it off and we didn't think much more of it beyond making a note to check the plants for more of them. Monday night, we found this:
That is a tomato hornworm covered in what appears to be eggs. Even creepier, we found another one that was completely desiccated and the eggs hatched. Some googling revealed that, not only do we have hornworms, we have Braconid wasps. These beneficial wasps lay their eggs in the tomato hornworm. The larvae feed on the caterpillar while it is still alive, emerging once they are ready to build cocoons and undergo metamorphosis.  The white, egg-shaped structures on the back of our hornworm are the cocoons. While all of this isn't so good for the caterpillar, it is definitely good for our tomatoes.
 The garden has grown a lot since I last posted a picture of the whole thing.
We missed a zucchini under some leaves.  The large one in this picture is the size of Michael's forearm. It is destined for bread. The pink beans are bird egg beans, a shell bean. We took a chance that the watermelon above was ripe. It had all of the signs: yellow spot on the bottom, dried tendril and hollow-sounding, but unfortunately, it wasn't ripe.
 Red pear tomatoes, a variety of cherry tomato.
 An early pumpkin.
Our Milkweed in bloom.

Monday, July 15, 2013

American Chestnut Land Trust and Greenbelt Park

We had friends in town from Georgia this weekend. They are as enthusiastic about getting outdoors as we are, so we made a quick trip to Greenbelt Park on Saturday and a longer trip to the north section of the American Chestnut Land Trust's trails in Calvert County, Maryland. Our friends are birders, which means that we always learn a lot when we hike with them, since we don't know birds very well at all.

Our short walk in Greenbelt Park was definitely a high-reward adventure, considering we were out for less than an hour.  

 We saw a bunch of Green Frogs (Rana clamitans) in a wetland on the west side of the park.
Michael spotted this juvenile Barn Owl (Tyto alba) Barred Owl (Strix varia) in the trees (Thanks to a friend for the correction).  

On Sunday, we drove down to Calvert County for a four mile hike on the north side of the American Chestnut Land Trust. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was an area I wanted to visit. The Parker's Creek (which is, apparently, the last undeveloped stream on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland) wetlands also promised birds, which it definitely delivered. The trails are overgrown and wet since it has been raining so much. Wineberries and Paw Paws lined the Turkey Trail, which took us down to the creek. Once at the creek, we saw a Bald Eagle! It was too far away for pictures, but not for our friends' binoculars. 

After lunch, we hiked west on the Parkers Creek Trail. Our friends' one-year-old fell asleep in her kid carrier, allowing us to do the whole four mile loop (We were all prepared to turn back when she got tired of the hike). The trail meandered along the creek, past smaller wetlands and little bogs. At the west end of the trail, a little spur goes out to a place where there was an old bridge across the creek. We returned to the car by climbing the Old Parkers Road Trail. It was a really interesting hike through an area that is really different than our usual hiking spots. We didn't see any other hikers, but we did see lots of biting flies and ticks (oh, and today I have evidence of chiggers).
 Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) on the Turkey Trail. These didn't survive our visit.
An unripe Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) on the Turkey Trail. I have seen the flowers of these trees before, but I had never actually seen the fruit.
Geum canadense (White Avens) on the Turkey Trail.
 A spider just starting to encase a fly. Click to enlarge to see it better.
Bog boards on the Parkers Creek Trail. Most of this trail was this overgrown.
Leaf-Legged Bug (Acanthocephala terminalis). One of the great things about hiking with our friends is that she seems to see every bug under every leaf.  We see so many more interesting insects when we are out with them than we would otherwise.
A copperhead on a log on the Parkers Creek Trail. This snake watched us carefully, but never moved to a more defensive posture (I have a zoom lens. We didn't approach it). It was fairly large for a copperhead.
 Parkers Creek at the bridge spur.
 Verbena urticifolia (White Vervain). The flowers on this plant are tiny - about 1/8th of an inch across.
The grain on a beautiful downed tree.