Monday, September 29, 2008

The Pepper Harvest

Well, the peppers are finally starting to come off in large numbers, so here's what they look like

1. Jalapeno
Origin - Central Mexico (1600)
Heat - Medium/Hot
Stock - wholesale nursery plant
Growth medium - garden soil, compost, fertilizer
Plant form - tall, needed staking
Peppers - 3", tapered
# Plants Needed for full year's supply: 6 - 10
Time to Harvest - 90 days
Notes - Plants were productive with sufficiently spicy plants that were a little on the small size.
2. Fish Pepper
Origin - Baltimore, Maryland (pre-WWII)
Heat - Medium/Hot
Stock - heirloom seed
Growth medium - topsoil, fertilizer
Plant form - bushy
Peppers - 1.5", tapered
# Plants Needed for full year's supply: too many
Time to Harvest - 120 days? Few peppers.
Notes - this Baltimore heirloom was very disappointing. Very few fruits. Plant and fruits are very attractive but did not have sufficient vigor this year.

3. Scotch Bonnet Pepper
Origin - Jamaica (cultivar of Habanero)
Heat - Very hot, but highly variable
Stock - seed from seed dealer
Growth medium - topsoil, manure (50/50)
Plant form - bushy
Peppers - 1" x 1", distinct "flat muffin" shape
# Plants Needed for full year's supply: 5 or 6
Time to Harvest - 120 days+
Notes - Plants were very slow to take off, and do not have the robust form of Habanero plants. However these (and the Bishops Crown) are "special" peppers, so that's OK.

4. Bishops Crown / Christmas Bell
Origin - Barbados - cultivar of Scotch Bonnet
Heat - Medium to Very Hot (variable by plant)
Stock - seed from seed dealer
Growth medium - topsoil, manure (50/50)
Plant form - bushy
Peppers - 1.5", distinct bell shape
# Plants Needed for full year's supply: 5 or 6
Time to Harvest - 130 days+
Notes - see Scotch Bonnet

5. Habanero (Cubano)
Origin - Carribean or Coastal Central America (Habana = Havana)
Heat - Very Hot (the standard)
Stock - wholesale nursery plant stock
Growth medium - topsoil, manure 50-50 mix
Plant form - bushy
Peppers - 1"-2", robust
# Plants Needed for full year's supply: 1 or 2
Time to Harvest - 110 days
Notes - Plants did VERY well; fairly long growing season

6. Habanero, White
Origin - Peru
Heat - (will try it later today)
Stock - Seed from seed dealer
Growth Medium - topsoil, fertilizer
Plant form - bushy
Peppers - 1cm, ball-shape
# Plants Needed for full year's supply: 1 or 2
Time to Harvest - 110 days
Notes - Plants short but stocky, very prolific

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heading North

Well, this is my last music-related post in awhile, but we just haven't gotten into good fall weather yet. We're about to get smacked by this storm coming up the coast - winds are already over 30mph. When the dust settles (next week), it'll be back to more "appropriate seasonal activities." Resident goose, early archery, and teal season have all produced pitiful results down here so far. Yawn.
For now, though, I am leaving on a weekend trip up to NYC. We plan to hook up with the "old folks" in the family and also to go see Old Crow Medicine Show play on friday night. I had a bunch of fishing planned for NYC, but this storm is pretty much screwing that up.

If you're in town, you will probably find me at the Rodeo Bar in NYC. See y'all real soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Best of Bristol

Charlotte, NC's New Familiars - my favorite "new find" of the weekend. These guys were intense, and talented.

Charlottesville, VA's Hackensaw Boys - surprisingly fast and talented!

Don Flemons, Carolina Chocolate Drops - far and away one of the most distinct sounds we heard all weekend. I had high expectations, and I was not at all disappointed!

We returned this morning from an amazing trip to the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion on the Tennessee / Virginia border - a little town called Bristol, which they like to call "The Home of Country Music." We rented a cabin outside of town ($40/night) and the weekend pass to see 75 artists on 14 stages was $40 a person. Which, obviously, is unreal! We saw dozens of artists play, a few were great, most were good, and a few were awful. Here are some of my favorites. Amy took most or all of these photos.

There are several obligatory photographs in Bristol. Here's the double yellow from State Street, which divides the town of Bristol, TN from the town of Bristol, VA

We saw Ian Thomas sit in with the New Familiars on friday night, and he was pretty convincing. We caught Ian solo on sunday afternoon inside the Paramount Theater. Ian is the most talented songwriter I have seen or even heard of in a long, long time. People (like, tattooed people) sat there and cried as he sang his songs. Just amazing.

I love the Two Man Gentlemen Band. From the constant sexual double entendres (usually dealing with kazoos, wetness, you get the picture), to the 1940's style cover of the "Ghostbusters Theme," these guys are the most fun act around. At an indoor show at 2pm, they had the crowd laughing, singing along, and even playing kazoos.

Obligatory Bristol Photo #2 - The Burger Bar, where Hank Williams Sr. had his last meal. He died of an overdose while en route from Bristol to Nashville.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Travel Schedule

Alright, made it from MD to TN in 9 hours with only one flat tire!

Drive from NC to TN
Set up camp (5pm)
Head to Bristol to watch the Infamous Stringdusters at 6pm

and the Straight 8's at 830pm

Morning - Fish at Warriors Path State Park in Blountsville?, TN
Afternoon - Head back over to Bristol for the ongoing Rhythm & Roots Festival, including:

James Hand at 1:30pm

Hackensaw Boys at 3:30pm

and Scott Miller & The Commonwealth at 9pm

Sunday - more music and fishing!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Heading South

Well, after an uneventful monday I have two days of fundraising meetings in Maryland. Once they end, we are skedaddling off to Bristol TN for the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival. Then I come back for a few days, and we leave on a trip to NYC to visit family and also see Old Crow Medicine Show at the historic Webster Hall.

Will definitely get some fishing done in Tennessee......New York?....not so sure.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Now What?

Well, I have monday off from work and I am definitely going to be outside. I have three great options:

1) bass fishing at the 3,000 acre reservoir 15 minutes from our house

2) bow hunting at the same reservoir (opening day!), which has not been hunted for over 60 years (this is the first year they're opening the area to bow hunters)

3) bow hunting at a very high quality farm about 90 minutes from home (opening day!)

Now, all of those things sound pretty great (to me), but check out the weather:

Monday Sep 15
High: 87 °F RealFeel®: 82 °F
Winds:WNW at 15mph
Wind Gusts: 27 mph

27mph winds!?! I can't decide what's worse in that weather - bowhunting or topwater fishing!


Friday, September 12, 2008

Maryland Whitetails

These two deer (a 9-point and a doe) were having a snack in the 100' wide shrub buffer inbetween my office and the highway. Apparently honeysuckle is DELICIOUS!

Where we grew up in southeastern Virginia (1970s through early 1990s), there were very few deer. The deer we did see we were very unhealthy. 15 years later in the Mid-Atlantic states, the deer population has exploded, causing outbreaks of disease, destruction to habitat, and roadkill fatalities to humans....all at a disturbing scale. So how did this happen?

As you may have heard me theorize before, at the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, white-tailed deer composed only a minor portion of the large grazing animals in the Mid-Atlantic. Elk and "wood bison" ruled the day. As climates and hunting continued to affect the bison and elk unfavorably, deer became more prominent on the landscape. Unlike elk and bison, deer are able to exist quite happily in a human-modified agricultural landscape.

Fast forward to the 1970s. In the Mid-Atlantic, deer hunting was still a very popular pasttime, but farms were being abandoned and/or developed into subdivisions at a very quick pace. Deer populations initially did not respond well to these new "habitats." However, as these patterns continued, deer populations exploded for a few reasons:

1) firearms regulations prohibiting hunting in many suburban counties
2) failure to recruit new/young deer hunters as hunters aged
3) failure of state wildlife agencies to encourage proper deer harvest management

So what do all those things mean? The first one is pretty self-explanatory. As one of the early forms of gun control, many counties with urban centers passed unilateral "discharge ordinances." These laws state that while you may own as many guns as you like, you may not discharge a firearm within that county. Some of you guys out west must be thinking, "That's impossible!" Trust me, it's our life out here, and it's why bow hunting has regained such popularity. There's simply less acreage to hunt, and that acreage decreases yearly.

Second is also key. Fewer people are pursuing deer. Why? First, older hunters are dying, or getting out of hunting due to age/illness. Second, hunter education is no longer taught in schools. Not even after school. In the words of Maryland's deposed idiot governor Glendenning, "Hunter Education puts guns in the hands of children." Of course, a minor nuance is that Americans who complete hunter education are about 500% less likely to die of a firearm injury than the general population (OK, I have no data to back that up). It's getting harder and harder to recruit new hunters into the fold, partly because hunting access is on a severe decline (see #1 above).

Third....ahhh.....this is where I bless the Quality Deer Management Association, who advocate deer management strategies designed to grow a healthy herd and large, old, healthy bucks. So many folks, until the last 5 years, have REFUSED to get involved with proper deer management. How can you have a healthy herd, or trophy bucks, if you harvest no does, and harvest every 1.5 year old deer that walks by? Unfortunately, a huge sector of hunters (until recently) honestly believed that they were doing a favor to the deer herd by shooting small bucks. What the hell kind of sense does that make? None. Only in the last several years have state DNRs started to advocate "managed trophy hunts" and extensive doe harvests. For instance, I live in a "unlimited antlerless deer" county because the density is so high. I can harvest does all winter if I prefer. The only thing stopping me is my distinct lack of skill.

All over the mid-atlantic, deer densities are at record highs. The deer are all over the highways, in peoples' yards, and are putting a real dent in ecological succession of "natural" woods.

I hope to get out next week to get one. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Wham Bam Tobacco Plan

At about 4", around May 1, seedlings were transplanted outside to an area with morning sun and afternoon filtered sun. About half were planted in a 50-50 manure-soil mix, and the other half were planted in a 50-50 compost-soil mix. The plants in manure grew larger, faster, with larger leaves, and seemed to be slightly more resistant to cutworms. When growing tobacco in the past, I had always used a strong manure mix in the soil. Tobacco is a very needy plant from a soil chemistry standpoint.

A few of my leaves!

Typical tobacco plants

So....this year we grew tobacco again. It generally went well. Around March 1, we started with seeds in peat pots, of the following varieties:
  • Small Stalk Black Mammoth (devastated by cutworms)
  • Punch (flowered too early, no large leaves)
  • Havana - ding! ding! ding! Winner! Large stalks and large leaves, resistant to pests
By July 1, there was distinct separation in the vigor of the plant varieties (see the bullets above). Havana plants featured thick stalks, healthy terminal buds, and great leaf size and distribution. And of course, no fungus and few insects.
On August 1, I started cutting the lowest leaves off of several plants. I dried them first on a glass table in the sun (3 days), then hung them from a line in the shade for 4-5 days. Once the leaf edges were really starting to dry, I brought the line of leaves in, and de-veined the largest leaves (that could possibly be used for cigar wrapper or binder).
After another week (leaves fully brown and supple but dry), I laid them out on a slab of oak, piled in a stack. As I've continued to cut more tobacco (starting to harvest entire plants now that it's September), I am stacking the semi-dry leaves on top of the stack of drier leaves.
As a result of that, the strangest thing happened (my improbable goal): fermentation is occuring! The drier leaves are precipitating ammonia and tar, all without drying any further. Perfect! Well not quite - as you can see in the diagram above, the curing leaves are experiencing some shrinkage....we'll work through that!
Here's the guide I've been using - the 1962 guide to Cohibas Cubana:
The leaves are tried into pairs and strung onto long poles. These pairs of leaves are called palmas. The palms are hung on poles that are progressively moved to the top of the drying barn. The entire drying process takes about 45-60 days. During this drying period, the leaves turn from green to yellow to dark brown. During the entire drying process the leaves are carefully watched so they will not try too quickly and lose their precious flavor giving oils. Workers keep a close eye on the ambient temperature and humidity, as well as rainfall. Doors and shutters are opened and/or closed accordingly.
When the leaves are cured or dried, they must be fermented. This is usually done twice, with the exception of leaves destined to produce the Cuban Cohiba which is fermented three times. Two fermentation's take between 30-90 days depending on the class of tobacco. In the process the leaves are carefully and individually laid upon each other into a pile.The pile is called a burros and is covered with cloth. Tobacco is moistened to 25% - 30% humidity. This reduces resins in the leaf and they attain a uniform color. In the second fermentation the leaves are moistened with a proprietary mixture of water and tobacco stems. This is a more aggressive fermentation which removes odor and some gases. This reduces ammonia and nitrogenous gases (molecule of nicotine).

Garden Update

Morning Glory, var. Flying Saucer
It's been a pretty productive year in the garden - limited pests, a good distribution of sun and rain through the season, and pretty admirable blooms and berries from all of the plants. Even the tobacco is curing like it's supposed to - I could smell the ammonia coming off of it last night. More on that as it progresses!

Morning Glory, var. Grandpa Ott

Red Dahlia


New England Aster

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hopeful Week

Amy, Roan, and Dave on the Phat Boy skiff, Baytree Island, Virginia

We are back in Maryland, I'm nursing somewhere around 300 tick bites (lost track after about 200, so the real number is a guess), but the real storyline is that this week could hold some really great times. My workload will be back down to a "dull roar" and I'm a little more settled into my teaching routine, so what else could be going on?

-Resident Goose season opened today

-Dove season opened today

-We will probably have hurricane-related surf by the end of the week

In another two weeks, the fish will start biting again (as temperatures begin to let up), bow season will start, and teal season will also get underway.

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