Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Gardening - Here Comes the Food

Within 24 hours of my first sunflower opening, the plants were
beset by all manner of bright yellow insects and spiders.
Where the heck do the bright yellow bugs go the other 11.5 months
per year?
One of the really cool things about gardening, hunting, and raising food in 2013 is that so many people are taking up "food procurement" for very different reasons.  Hippies, doomsday preppers, local food obsessives, everybody seems to be in on it.

I've spent a ton of time this spring and early summer getting my new garden set up.  I think it's basically done.  And food's starting to grow.  It's wonderful.

My Norland Red Potatoes were getting unruly in my small garden, so I picked about half of them.  My total investment in Norland Reds was $4.50 for a pound of seed potatoes.  I've picked about $10 worth of big red potatoes and smaller new potatoes off of the first half of the plants.  Good haul!

Pests in our community garden kept my cucumber harvest at "zero" for three years.  Now I've got some potential cukes growing.  I also have a very nosy raccoon who's been leaving me giant mulberry poops near the garden.   I'll do what I can to keep him off of my cukes.

First rule of rainwater drip irrigation fight club:  spend dozens of hours setting up the irrigation system under the premise that "in the long run, it will save time because I won't have to water."  Second rule of rainwater drip irrigation fight club:   turn on irrigation and stand there staring at it, drinking beer, for half an hour, because it's cool.


Jalapenos!  Habaneros, bullnose, and mini-bells also started setting fruit last weekend.

Right.  So....this picture.  I've been growing trumpet creeper vines for years as a way to entice more bees and hummingbirds into our garden.  Now that we have more sun, we have very happy, effusively flowering trumpet creeper.  That hasn't stopped the problem we've always had with these plants - ants habitually dig into the base of the flower to steal the nectar.  See the scars on the flowers above? 

I am really looking forward to getting rid of our snowball hydrangea bush after this growing season, but I admit, the flowers look great in the background of the bee balm flowers.

Behold the mighty bee balm - aggregator of helpful pollinators in your garden!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bleak Outlook for Virginia Hunters As Hunter Numbers Recharge in Most Other States

A similar demographic makes up Virginia's hunting population.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Several months ago, I wrote an article after preliminary US Fish and Wildlife Service numbers were posted for hunting license sales in the United States (9% increase nationwide, 5% decrease in Virginia).

USFWS looks at this data periodically to try and gauge where their priorities should lie for funding conservation and carving up (sometimes literally) federal lands and (less literally) federal funds for state wildlife projects.   To put it bluntly, fewer hunters = less federal interest in maintaining,  restoring, and preserving habitat that primarily focuses on game species.  Less government investment in game management, coupled with overly restrictive hunting, firearm, and even archery regulations means that hunter recruitment will by necessity plummet.   At some point, the decision-makers will stop listening to the hunting community, currently clocking in at 9% of the American population.  That's the truth, and we each need to admit that to ourselves.

Prominently featured in that data is a somewhat surprising 5 year, 9% nationwide increase in the number of licensed hunters nationwide.  A quick study of the data shows that this rise has corresponded temporally with efforts to increase hunter access and recruitment in several heavily populated states such as Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.   Their market research (yes, those states spend money on this stuff) shows not only that hunters spend money when they travel, but often, they bring non-hunters with them, who spend even more money!  

More sparsely populated states whose state and local economies depend heavily on hunting-related tourism have also shown a recent willingness to "try new tools" to encourage hunters to visit their states.  Not surprisingly, states who are working the hardest to increase hunting access are having significant gains in hunting license sales (40% in one case!).  One of their not-so-secret tools: liberal sunday hunting.

Why sunday hunting? Almost no one under the age of 50 (when our kids are now graduating from high school) can regularly hunt on Saturdays.  And according to a study by New York University, 30-45 million American children (40-50%) participate in out-of-school sports, which almost always include Saturday games and practices.  I'm not against team sports.  My brothers and I all played (one of us at the college level), and in fact my three year old son has his first-ever soccer practice this week.

Why else sunday hunting? Because like all blue laws, it specifically violates  the Constitution's Establishment Clause, and in so doing, violates the 14th Amendment by not allowing groups like observant Jews to hunt on weekends at all.  Sidenote: hunting is a state constitutional right in Virginia.

Here's Virginia's recruitment trend:

Why Not Sunday Hunting, Or, Ward Cleaver Turns Back the Clock
There are still those in the state legislature and in lobbyists' offices in the Commonwealth who believe "fewer hunters means less competition for 'my' deer."  This is 1950s thinking at its finest, and falsely assumes that those few dozen individuals will have the legal and logistical ability to gobble up hunting lands vacated by hunters who have left the sport.  As I've written before, another group of people is ecstatic about this declining trend of Virginia hunters:  anti-hunters and gun control advocates.  The Rural Ag Lobby Republicans and the rabid, overly pierced anti-hunters can't both be right on this topic.   And if this trend continues, I strongly believe the anti-hunters will win out.  USFWS has clearly indicated in the past that they are willing to make wildlife funding and management decisions based on more vocal interest from anti-hunters.  We've seen it in the same management unit (USFWS Region 1) that oversees Virginia-related decisions.  Anti-hunters matter to them.  Folks, this is not complicated.

The Path Forward
As our nation's most liberal and most conservative states simultaneously embrace Sunday hunting as a method of recruiting the next generation of hunters (and with a notable and well documented lack of increase in hunter-nonhunter conflicts or hunting accidents), it's hard to understand why supposedly conservative Virginia Republicans so loudly vote against one's right to harvest food on their own land, and teaching their children to do the same, in the way that our ancestors taught us.

It is equally baffling that the embattled Democratic Party is leading the way into the future while so many Virginia Republicans are willing to risk high political stakes by opposing Sunday hunting based on polls that were never taken, surveys that were never written, distributed, collected, or analyzed, and based on lobbyist position papers agreed upon by "senior membership" of certain groups.   Dozens of times, Republican leaders and supposed conservative lobbyists have been asked to produce the data they claim to have, and yet no information, data, or survey showing purported "strong opposition to sunday hunting" has ever been brought into the light.  Why not?   It's inexcusable that elected Republicans are divided on this topic.

Sneaking Out the Back?
A rather silent party in this Classic Commonwealth Debacle has been the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  Their Board of Directors has recommended that the state legislature approve expanded Sunday hunting, but elected Virginia Republicans in leadership roles have actively and intentionally prevented this from happening, so I largely have given VDGIF a "pass" in the many lines of this blog dedicated to Virginia's fight for expanded sunday hunting.  

 I'm rethinking that now, and in the next entry in this series, we're going to look at how hard VDGIF has actually worked to stop the loss of hunters from Virginia's ranks.  Have they really worked to the edge of their legal ability to support the demographic that provides THEIR TOP TWO FUNDING SOURCES (license sales and matching federal taxes, stamps, and grants like NAWCA) for their agency's operations, projects, and mission?

Does VDGIF know that they have a hunter problem that fully translates into a potential 66% decrease in their operating budget?  And have they fully employed the tools in their programmatic toolbox to right the ship?
We've taken a look at what they're looking they paid to have analyzed....and we look forward to telling you about it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Please Stop Hype-Jinxing Your Outdoor Expeditions.

Man, nothing is as much of a downer as seeing the same blogger posting 30 social media and blog updates about HOW FREAKING EPIC their upcoming trip is going to be.  You know what I'm talking about, usually they tag all the other fishing bloggers that will be going with them, either to the local creek or to some far off country.

Even more of a bum out is how most of those trips seem to turn out:

Not my photo.  Couldn't find a real name for its owner

Let's get real.  It's awesome to have a trip planned.  Even awesomer to have the trip funded (somehow). It's awesome to be excited about it.  But unless it's to the Arctic Circle or the Amazon, your trip preparations and hyping the names and online ID's of your travel buddies are of basically no interest to anyone, ever.  

Making it worse is what I referred to at the beginning of this post - a widely known but poorly understood mathematical correlation between the extent to which you hype an outdoor trip or expedition, and the extent to which the trip will not be productive.  Based on the three semesters of calculus and two semester of graduate level statistics that I all somehow passed, I have decided to call this the "Hype Jinx."  You know what I'm talking about; "EPIC TRIP TO THE CREEK THIS WEEKEND WITH @creekmaniac, @troutsniffer, @size36caddis, @nativebrown69 !!! CAN'T WAIT WILL BE SOOO EPIC!!!!!"   The associated blog post will usually tell some tedious tale of hand-loading ammunition that will end up being not correctly weighed, tying 500 flies that will end up not matching the hatch, forgetting every pair of boots you own, getting into a car accident as  you pull out of the driveway, or getting your luggage stolen on the way to the destination.  Then....the skunk is on.

Unless you are a very talented writer and/or storyteller, your skunking doesn't make for great reading, either.   I should know - after following my stats on this blog for over five years, do you know what kind of posts get the least readership?  The ones where I wax philosophical about the river eternal, the tides of life, or whatever, but in which I also have to slyly admit that I went fishing or hunting and I didn't catch or shoot anything, often due to some dumb mistake(s) on my part. Anymore, I just don't blog about the skunkings - certainly not the local ones.  You don't want to read about them, anyway.  I've seen the stats!  And I certainly don't blog about most of my trips before they happen.  I wish I could say it was out of a lack of boastfulness or out of a studious Christian interest in subduing my Pride.   But that wouldn't be true.  I just don't want to jinx it.  (Ironic, given the amount of time and thought I give to science and my personal religious beliefs...which do not include voodoo or jinxing).

My therapy tip for you:

The next time you are tempted to write a 2,500 word blog post and 40 twitter posts about your upcoming fishing trip, just don't.  Instead, do the following:

1.  Take a somewhat interesting picture of your gear preparation
2.  Make that image full text width in your text pane
3.  Write three sentences about your anticipation of the trip
4.  After the trip, edit the pre-trip post to include a link to the post-trip wrapup.


It's been too long.  Don't know what I'll find.  Finger Lakes, here I come.

It's that simple!  Give your readers something awesome to look forward to - not just how those 500 flies that you blogged about somehow got wet and then mold cemented them together in your fly box.  Not "remember those five blog posts about my new Yeti cooler? Somebody stole it when we were at a gas station."

Good luck - you can do it!  Most certainly, you can do it better than I can.  So now you have no excuse.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don't Kill That Bug - Recent Photos of Bugs That Matter

Regal jumping spider:  Prolific breeder and predator of yard and garden caterpillars.  Does bite, does hurt.
Horseshoe crab: more of a spider than a crab.  Their blood is critical for medical research, including emergency
medical tests.  Their eggs are the sole source of spring food for some species of migrating birds. 
Black and yellow mud dauber:  predator of spiders, including the Black Widow. 

Either a Long-Horned Bee or a Hairy Bee.  I really need to catch one to make a positive ID.
Both are native pollinators
who work far faster and more efficiently than the introduced honeybee. 
Spider Hunting Wasp.  Well, the name pretty much explains its value.  This one has decided that soldierfly maggots
are easier than spiders to catch and eat.
Metallic/Sweat Bees.  My first introduction to them was being molested by them during a two-day survey project
on the shores of Lake Ontario.  Sweat bees are attracted to human sweat, and will land on you to drink it.  If you don't smack them, they fly away.  If you smack them, they sting you before they die.  When they're not tempting death by smacking, they are busy being very productive pollinators in the late summer (hello tomatoes and peppers). 
Leaf cutter bees (damage shown):  these bees cut up some tender landscaping plants to feed their
young, but repay humanity by being the #1 pollinator of the world's #1 forage crop - alfalfa - a plant
that honeybees refuse to visit. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Heavier Rod and New Plastics

Nice swamp bass on a YUM Shakalicious Worm (7" cut down to 5")
Soft plastics have always been the last tackle I'll deploy.  First, they're not great for the type of fishing I prefer - finesse styles - and second...well, that's a longer story.

My father is a pretty capable bait fisherman, but only in retirement is he understanding the value and use of artificial lures.  Make no mistake, he's always owned them, they just seemed to never work. Penultimate in his small tackle box of artificial lures was his selection of a few rubber worms.  Purple was one of the colors; I can't remember the others he kept.  The worms lasted for several years, fished, re-fished, covered in mud and dust, and returned to the bag.  They smelled like motor oil and caught no fish ever, as far as I can recall.

The 2.5" YUM Baby Craw has done me right for 8 years
Fast forward into my own growth as an angler, which involved a lot of misses and mistakes for several years, but ultimately some good skill came out of it by the time I was 25 or so.  I became pretty talented with light spinning tackle, focusing on jerk baits and inline spinnners.  For a decade and a half, those two lure groups have dominated my fishing.  And I've been successful, catching hundreds of trout on in-line spinners, and thousands of bass on a variety of jerk baits, poppers, and stickbaits.

Notable catches (all lures) have been a 20" spotted bass on a 3" popper, a 19" rainbow trout on a Joe's Flies inline spinner, a 17" smallmouth on a Blue Fox, and a few dozen 3-4lb largemouth on Rapalas and poppers.

The BPS Graphite Special does well with hard baits too
Yet, I've missed a lot of fish as well by focusing so strongly (and thick-headedly) on tactics focused on light tackle and only two types of lures.

My first hint was a hard-to-reach rocky bank on a shady reservoir bank, over a cobble shoreline back in 2005.  I'd happened to buy a bag of 2.5" YUM craws and decided to toss them out....from an ultralight spinning rod. I won some fights and lost some BIG ones.  As in, giant pike and 6lb+ largemouth.  That's 4lb line for you.

Since then, I've been petering around with soft plastics - the YUM baby craw chief amongst them, and had a variety of luck.   This year, I've decided to work plastics a little harder, and hopefully it will pay off.

This spring, when it seemed like I got skunked six times in a row while fishing, I also broke two rods (each break was inexcusable and due to my stubbornness and laziness).  I made a big choice for myself - I bought one new rod - a BPS Graphite Series - in Medium / Fast.  It's still a short, stiff rod - 5'6", which will allow me to pitch baits in and out of tiny holes, but I was mainly hoping it would give me some backbone while throwing plastics, and allowing for some stronger hooksets than my half-dozen light and ultralight rods.  It did.   A full review of the rod is brewing.

For the second fishing outing in a row, I caught more bass than I could count.  Once again, many were small, and once again, some 6lb+ bass simply watched the lures pass by.  But the BPS Graphite rod was strong and stiff and sensitive "enough," although it'll never be mistaken for a panfish rod, or a light rod of any kind.
I'm all ready for my next go-around with these fish.  And I've bought some 4.5" craws this time.  We'll see who's the boss then....

Definitely a stickbait...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June Gardening - The Sit Back and Wait

The dust has settled.  I have a new garden, actually, five small new gardens, a new irrigation system that is probably more complex than it needs to be, and a bunch of great ideas.  And we all know where that goes.
Beds #1 and #2, bustling with potato-ey action

Spring crops:

Mesclin (bolted)
Deer Tongue (bolted)
Red Deer Tongue (bolted)
Salad Bowl Leaf Lettuce (wilting)
Space Saver Spinach (bolted)

Carrot seedlings
Late spring crops:
Red potatoes (Norland) - these are doing far better than I hoped, and unfortunately are taking over the garden.
Carrots - Danvers Half Long - getting short and stumpy carrot varieties is a necessity for raised beds
Thai Basil
Red Onions
Yellow Onions
White Onions
Soft Neck Garlic

Random pumpkins from seed in compost
Summer crops:
Burpless Cucumber
Bush Cucumber
Kentucky Wonder Pole Bean
Fish Pepper
Petite Bell Pepper
Bullnose Pepper
Thai Pepper
Roma Tomato
Amish Paste Tomato
Random pumpkin vine....???

I'd like to add a few more herbs like the Carribean Culantro.  I'd also like to find a spot to hide one more specialty pepper, either a special chili or a type of Carribean habanero...haven't decided.

Grapefruit mint and deer tongue lettuce

Sad I missed:
Crookneck squash - one of the few "real" vegetables I truly enjoy.
Sunflowers - not enough space or time this year
Bee Balm and Bergamot - all were transplanted...not sure they will all bloom in their new home

New this year:
Grapefruit Mint
Red Dragon Sedum
Shasta Daisy
Lanceleaf Coreopsis

Robins nest in American bittersweet vine.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Today in Low Angle Wildlife Photography

Just back from a weekend at the beach.  Summer's on track.

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...