Tag Archives: figs

December 7 – the calm before the storm

For the past few days, there have been lots of warnings about the “Icepocalypse” that was coming for us late Saturday night.  The handful of days immediately preceding the wintry disaster, however, couldn’t have been more different.  The past week, after all that unseasonably frosty weather at the end of November and early December, has been an 180 degree turn into a spell of unusually warm moist days, lasting all the way through until Saturday the 7th.

For most of this past week, I’ve been busy with work/family obligations; plus, quite frankly, I’ve been having a harder  time discovering new and novel images or manifestations of the season.  We’re in the home stretch of the year, and for the most part, the natural world has shut down for the winter.  There hasn’t been much new vegetative or fungal growth, but it hasn’t been cold enough for snow or ice, just a gradual shutting down and withering away of all of the growth that has accumulated throughout the year.  Like these withered figs, killed by frost before they had a chance to ripen and be eaten.Image

Although the past week has been a little damp, Friday morning was the big storm day.  Although it only rained for a couple of hours, it was quite the torrential storm, with thunder and lightning as though we were back in the summer.  The next day, many spots in the garden had standing water.Image

All in all, Saturday was pretty pleasant, cold but not oppressively so, a good day to get outside sandwiched between two days of wet and/or icy storm.  Took this photo on Saturday afternoon while I made my way down to the weekly ultimate frisbee game.Image

I had a few minutes to spare before the game started, so I took a quick walk through the woods near the river, to see what effect a few days of abundant rain and above-freezing temperatures had made.Image

I saw a few oysters, the first I’d seen in over a month.  These little guys probably won’t grow all that big before they get killed by the upcoming ice storm.Image

And a big downed tree covered with puffballs, riddled with stringy puffball mycelium.Image

Like the garden, the forest down by the river had a lot of standing water from Friday’s storm.Image

The South Anna River itself was running fairly high, but well below flood stage.  The forecast is for several days of rain/ice/snow/mix, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if we got some flooding between now and Wednesday.Image

Saturday’s frisbee game was the first we’ve played on the upper field, our “winter lot.”  Our normal frisbee field is a patch of flat down at the bottom of a hollow, with a creek along one side.  This makes it pretty good in hot, dry weather, as it stays moist and green even when we haven’t had much rain.  It’s also nice that when we’re playing in late afternoon and evening, there’s plenty of shade.  But during the winter months, the lower field never fully dries out, and if we play on the field when its cold and wet, it’s easy to strip away all the grass, leaving a horrible mud pit.  So from December through March, we play on the field up at the top of the hill, which is much better suited to winter activity.  It’s also much more open and (to me, at least) more scenic, with a row of large trees along the north side and a nice view of the community to the south.Image

On this afternoon, we played on into the afternoon until the sun started to go down.  At this time of year, so close to the winter solstice, the sun begins to set around 5 in the afternoon.  This photo, one of our largest oak trees holding onto just a last few dried up leaves, was taken about 15 minutes before the sun began to set.Image

I wound up skipping the post-frisbee sauna this afternoon, but took this “late afternoon in late fall” shot as I headed home.Image

Looking off to the southwest, where most of our storms come from.  The forecast is for an “icepocalypse,” which is predicted to shut down roads, cause power outages, and generally make life miserable for the next few days.  I’ll keep you posted (depending on the durability of our power and internet).Image

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September 24 – here comes the fall

The past few days have continued on much like the rest of September– after a damp Saturday, maybe about an inch of rain all in all, it’s back to dry sunny warm days and cool nights.  Looking at the extended forecast, it doesn’t look like much will change for the next ten days.  Foggy every morning, sunny every afternoon, low of 43-46 every evening, high of 73-76 every afternoon, no chance of rain on any of the days.  Consistent and pleasant, if a bit dull, and a bit disappointing for someone who is hoping to find fall mushrooms.

Going back to Sunday morning, a beautiful morning indeed.  The day dawned bright and sunny, the world twinkling and scrubbed clean by a day of rain.  The first sight I saw was the overgrown asparagus in our back yard covered with moisture from the evening, glowing in the early morning sunlight.Image

During the night, spiders had woven enormous webs all over the back yard, and they were also festooned with dew, shining in the bright sunlight.Image

Was there an unusual number of spider webs, or is it always like this and it’s the combination of overnight rain and morning sun that’s making them all look so dramatic this particular morning?Image

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It was quite uncanny…Image

There were masses of what looked to be spider silk on the ground, although I’m not quite sure what they were.  The sunlight reflecting off of all the trapped moisture almost gave it a prism/rainbow effect, quite pretty.Image

Early in the morning, I was going to get some milk, and I came across this odd pinkish/orange fungal-looking protuberance on a live tree.  I’ll keep an eye on it over the next few days and see what it grows into.Image

The rest of Sunday was dry and sunny; whatever system had dropped its rain on us was fully over.  The next day, I took a couple of walks in the woods, one with my son and one alone, to see if the combination of a day of rain followed by a day of sun would bring up more mushrooms.  For the most part, it was a pretty disappointing walk; even with an inch of rain on Saturday, there wasn’t much coming up.  I saw this patch of young mushrooms just off of my backyard, but once I got further into the woods, there wasn’t a whole lot to see.Image

All of the dry sunshine has been good for the fig trees, and we’re continuing to get several ripe ones each day.  Unlike last year, there is no one time when they all ripen at once, no one day where you can stuff yourselves with figs until you can’t eat any more.  Instead, each day we’re going out and picking a small handful of ripe ones.  There are lots of people snacking on the figs; even with five or six trees in the yard, there never seems to be enough.Image

I explored the morningstar back yard, thinking that Saturday’s rain might have brought up even more honey mushrooms.  It seemed like the ones that came up a few days earlier were the only ones there, and there weren’t any fresh new ones.  I was able to pick a small basket full of edibles in good shape, but most of the ones I found looked like this– rotten, or smushed, or both rotten and smushed.Image

Here’s an interesting find.  I just started seeing these plants, which look like indian pipe, but are bright pink, unlike the pale white plants I’m used to seeing.  I remember seeing them last fall as well, I’m not sure if the’re just a pink variety of Monotropa uniflora, or whether they’re actually a different species.Image

here’s a close-up.  Quite pretty.Image

Later in the afternoon, I had some time to myself, and I took a bit of a stroll on my own.  The woods didn’t seem to have much new to share with me, it was nice to stretch my legs and get some fresh air after all of the indexing I have been doing, but for the most part the quite forest just seemed to be the same as it’s been for the past month.  I had been hoping that the rain would have pushed up some new edible mushrooms, but despite the ground still being pretty damp, this single bolete was the only large fungus that I saw on the walk.  I will have some more free time this Thursday, and I will go for another stroll on that day to see what’s new.Image

September 5-6 – home again, again

We arrived back at Twin Oaks on Wednesday night.  Over the past few days, in between unpacking, getting back into the work scene, and spending time with some old friends who are visiting the community, I’ve had a bit of time here and there to get out and do some obervating.  Here’s some of what I’ve seen, in no particular order:

In the West Virginia Allegheny highlands, summer had already begun to turn into fall, with touches of yellow and orange in the trees.  Back here in central Virginia, it is still very much summer, and aside from the odd withered leaf here and there, the trees are still quite green.  On my first morning back, I took this shot of the thriving rows of corn and sweet potato in our garden, against a decidedly summer-y background. Image

That first Thursday, like all the days since, was sunny and dry, not at all humid, and pleasantly warm.  In a way, it’s ideal weather, just hot enough to splash around in the pond, and only uncomfortable if you’re in direct sun during the middle of the day.  At night, it’s been cool enough that I’ve slept with the windows closed and, just last night, I even broke out a comforter to drape over the bed!  But, back to Thursday afternoon….

For some reason, at Twin Oaks, you tend to see lots of snakes, mostly black snakes and copperheads, in the late spring/early summer– May and June– and not so many the rest of the year.  This year was no different, so it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to come across this little green guy slithering across the path right in the middle of the Twin Oaks courtyard. Image

Here’s a close-up.  Such a handsome fellow!Image

I called the boys over to check out the snake, and they were suitably impressed.  I like the idea of raising country kids who aren’t fearful of snakes/bugs/bats/etc., and aren’t filled with the desire to shoot them on sight, but basically appreciative and empathetic to the various critters who share our home.Image

Thursday wound up being a very pond-y afternoon, with most of the community kids– and many of the parents– enjoying a long afternoon jumping in in the water.  I didn’t take any photos while I was down there (too many nekkid folks), but got this shot as I was heading back up the hill, which captures well the pleasures of late summer.Image

Friday morning, and I was up very early in the morning to let out the chickens.  The early morning light was quite lovely, as this photo attests.  Every year, one of our older members grows a banana tree, which gets larger and more impressive all through the spring and summer.  Then, every year before it can actually set fruit, it gets killed by frost sometime in October.  At this time of year, it gives a cool tropical look to our Virginia farm.Image

The fig trees in our backyard started to produce copious amounts of ripe figs while I was off in Louisville.  I was hoping to come home to a crazy overload of figs, but it seems like voracious packs of kids and other communards have been keeping up with the ripening, watching the trees closely, and picking each fruit as it turns big and purple.  It seems like this year the fig season won’t come to a glorious climax, as it has in the past; rather we’ll just keep on eating them as they come ripe, and everyone will get some.Image

Next to our fig trees is the kiwi arbor, which is also laden with fruit.  I’ve been keeping an eye on the kiwi fruits, ready to pounce as soon as they ripen, which is just now beginning to happen.  Here are some beautiful little kiwis, right on the edge of edibility:

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…and here is one which was ripe enough to eat.  Just this morning, I found two of them, so it looks like kiwi season is going to officially begin any day now.

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On Friday afternoon, and again this morning, I was able to take a couple short walks through the woods to see how things have progressed in the ol’ fungal kingdom.  It seems like it hasn’t rained much if at all while I was gone, and the forest floor is dry and crunchy.  Although there seems to be a little bit of new mushroom growth, mostly I am seeing the same ‘shrooms that were around a week ago, but kind of dried out and looking the worse for wear:

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I didn’t see any fresh, new chanterelles, but did see many of these little red ones, looking as though they’ve seen better days.

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And, in several places in the woods, I saw (and smelled!) nasty black mushy piles of rot where large numbers of mushrooms had grown, died, and decomposed.  I’m guessing it all happened while I was gone, as it seems like I would have noticed the clumps of mushrooms when they were growing.  This is just one photo– I saw at least five clumps like this just in the woods immediately beyond my yard.Image

As far as fresh new fungal growth, I encountered many large boletes, which were for the most part foul-smelling and did not seem likely to be edible…

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Also, this beautiful red aminita growing out of its volva like a baby bird hatching from an egg– also inedible but quite pretty:

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..some sort of tongue-like fungal growth sprouting from one of the tree stumps that I innoculated with oyster spawn earlier this year.  I’m not sure what this is, but I’ll be keeping en eye on it as it grows…

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…and a choice clump of what I’m almost entirely sure is Amanita rubescens (the Blusher mushroom) .  This is one of the few edible Amanitas, and I’ve been seeing them all over the community this spring and summer.  I’ve been avoiding eating them, due to being extremely wary of eating any form of Amanita, but the more I read about this species, the more sure I am about my identification, and they are considered quite a choice edible.Image

So I went ahead and harvested a couple of the best-looking caps.  I’m going to make a spore print so as to help me be 100% certain of my identification, then when I’m satisfied I know exactly what I have, I’m going to try cooking ’em up.  Wish me luck!

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Outside of the many types of mushroom I encountered, I’m definitely noticing that the vegetation on the trees is starting to look pretty beat-up.  Most of the leaves, which came out in mid-late April, have done their photosynthetic job, and it’s increasingly looking like the the trees are ready to let them go.  From the looks of this tree (and many like it), it won’t be long before we start getting some fall colors here in central Virginia. Image

but for now, I’ll sign off with this purty photo of the pond, clear, cool and refreshing on a picture perfect early September day… Image

July 23-24 – stayin’ hot and headin’ north

I’m sitting and writing right now at my siblings’ building in Brooklyn, where we’ve relocated for a few days, a “visit the family and get the hell out of Virginia for a week” vacation.  But before I get too far along, let’s get in the way back machine and travel all the way back to last Monday (the 23rd), with some random notes and observations…

On Monday, another hot dry day, I had the afternoon free, and feeling a bit negligent about dropping the ball on this journal, I took a little stroll through the yard and off into the woods.  My journey began with a delightful discovery– all of this hot sunny weather has had one positive outcome:  figs!  The fig trees in my back yard have been putting out fruit for a couple of months now, and just this weekend they started to get ripe.  On Sunday, I picked my first fig of the year, and on Monday, then again on Tuesday, there were several more.  So delicious– I think figs might be my absolute #1 favorite thing we grow at Twin Oaks.Image

The Japanese beetles have continued to breed like mad.  Most days, I’ve had a chance to gather up a bowl of beetles and feed them to the chickens at Tupelo, but I’ve skipped a few days, and it definitely makes a difference.Image

Butterflies in the back yard, one bush in particular was covered with them.Image

Most of them were the yellow and black variety pictured above, but there was one  bright orange individual of a different species.  As I tried to take a photo of it, it started to fly away, the resulting picture came out looking pretty nifty.Image

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As I walked into the woods, trying to figure out whether any mushrooms had survived the past 10 days of heat and rainlessness, I came across several specimens that may have been edible several days ago, but were presently in pretty bad shape, like this indigo milky.Image

or this green Russula, which would have made good eating several days ago.Image

I spotted this large shelf mushroom far off through the woods.  The sunlight came through the forest canopy so as to illuminate them, they were glowing brightly.  I think they may have been something edible at some point, but at this point they were all tough and woody and dried out.Image

A word on spiders.  For much of the season, as I walk through the woods, either on our trails or just bushwhacking, I’ve had to wave a “spider stick” in front of me, to keep me from blundering through one web after another.  As the summer has gone on, the webs have become more and more numerous; the walk I took today, which was the first time I’d been out in the woods for over a week, was downright spider-iffic.  Even constantly swinging a spider stick to break webs, I still kept walking into webs, and a couple of times I had to pull a spider out of my hair or off of my face.  Which is pretty unpleasant, even knowing that there are no poisonous web spiders in Virginia (there are black widows, but they don’t string webs between trees).  The spiders we have, though are pretty intimidating looking.  I had tried many times to photograph one of them, and just today figured out a way to trick my camera into focusing on one of them.  I believe they may be some species of Gasteracantha, but I’m certainly no expert on spider ID.  I just know they are one crazy looking bug, and it’s kind of unnerving to have one crawling around on your face, even if you know it isn’t poisonous.Image

one freaky looking spider.Image

I’m still finding lots of coral mushrooms in the woods, but you can see that the recent hot dry weather has taken a toll on them.  The ones below, like most of the mushrooms I encountered today, definitely was looking dried out and heat-stressed.Image

walking along a tractor path used by the forestry crew for cutting trees in the winter.  The green grassy looking plant looked almost like some sort of bamboo.  When I lived in California, I did some work with invasive plant removal, and it was interesting to see how logging paths were a vector for invasive plants that would grow along the paths and then spread out into the woods.  It doesn’t look like these plants are spreading beyond the path itself, but you can definitely see how non-native plants use logging roads and paths to push their way into otherwise impenetrable forest.Image

Deep into the woods, I started to come across some remnant chanterelle patches.  The first one I spotted was extremely heat stressed.Image

but then, I started to spot some others that were in surprisingly good shape.  I didn’t expect to find chanterelles under these conditions, but wound up filling my basket with them.Image

My prize find of the day was this enormous, bug free bolete.  I’m not sure what type it was, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the edible ones.Image

One mushroom I’ve continued to see lots of, even in the summer heat, is the Old Man of the Woods bolete.  What these particular mushrooms lack in gastronomic value, they make up for in sheer interestingness of appearance.Image

look at the weird texture on the cap of this one!Image

Along the way, I stopped in at my ‘dipping hole’ along the creek to splash some water on myself.  I wanted to do some more raking and dumping of rocks, but was running short of time by this point.  After nearly two weeks without rain, the creek was looking pretty low.  Image

Finally, just before I left the woods, I came across this flush of white oyster mushrooms, also in surprisingly good shape.  The brown specks on them were bits of sawdust, from ants (termites?) that were eating away at the stump above, and washed right off.  These oysters (along with the chanterelles I found) all wound up in omelets on Wednesday morning.Image

Tuesday AM.  I snapped this picture as I was heading out to C’ville to deliver tofu early in the morning.  The sky was actually much prettier than the photo shows, but I guess it kind of gets the idea across.Image

Tuesday after dinner, going for a walk with the boys.  I guess it’s a testament to such a wet spring and early summer that, even after so many hot dry rainless days, the countryside is still so green and shows no sign of drought.  Hopefully we’ll start getting rain again before things really start drying out.Image

On Wednesday morning, the whole family loaded up the station wagon and started driving north, to visit my brother and sister in New York.  We stopped for lunch just about an hour into the trip at spot where the road crossed over the Rappahannock River.  We parked along the side of the road, where a large convenient pullout vied in a battle of mixed messages with several prominent no parking signs.  I figured that if they had that many No Parking signs, there must have been something nice down there.  So we parked and followed a path down to a lovely sandy beach along the side of the river where we picnicked and splashed around before packing up and driving the rest of the way to the big city.  ImageAnd now I’m in New York, where I may try to do some more observaing, despite being in the midst of the greatest metropolitan area in the ol’ US of A.  We’ll see what the next few days have in store…