Figs and Great Wine
For the first time in my life, we harvested figs… which means we either got lucky or the planet is warming. We sliced the figs in half and ate them fresh with a dab of creamy blue cheese while sipping a full-bodied, peppery Cabernet Sauvignon. Pair that with a burnt-orange sunset over the Allegheny Mountains with trees starting to put on their kaleidoscope of fall color and you have a classic fall afternoon in Swoope – welcome to Meadowview.
We put the vegetable garden to bed except for a few remaining pepper plants and a couple of tomato plants we have high hopes for. A thick blanket of Crimson Clover now covers the rich soil to protect it from the erosive forces of falling raindrops. It’s also a stimulus package for the microbes.
Warbler Wave at the River
At the river, I witnessed a “Warbler Wave.” That’s when a bunch of these small birds passes through on their way to Central and South America. My students planted some “thickets” of Indigo bush and alder a couple of years ago and wouldn’t you know it, that’s where the long distance travelers were: Nashville and Palm Warblers. Common Yellowthroats, a Cardinal, a Carolina Wren and some Song Sparrows joined them.
A Bald Eagle flew overhead.
Fall asters, boneset, marsh marigolds, jewelweed and grand lobelia are blooming in the wildlife corridors we established along the small streams. More trees have come up on their own than the ones we planted. Catalpa, Green Ash, Black Walnut, Red Maple, and Sycamores are the native ones that we don’t have to plant. I noticed the leaves on one of the Catalpas were being eaten by something. I got close and turned a leaf over – Catalpa worms! There must be a thousand of them on this one tree. These are the ones they use for fish bait down South. I think I’ll gather a bunch and feed them to the chickens.
We now wait for the White Crowned Sparrows that will arrive with the frost in the coming days. The frost will make the tall fescue in the pastures very palatable for the cattle. The calves are looking really good. They should average out at least six hundred pounds when we sell them in December; they gained all that weight on good pasture, momma’s milk and my wife’s patient and ever – watchful care.
Smoke will be going up the chimney soon. The violent windstorm in June left us with plenty of seasoned firewood to keep us warm all winter.
Wish we had those lush pastures in Michigan Bobby! The drought has left the state parched and a major fire hazard. Hoping for a very wet and snowy Winter this year!
I have always had better success managing the seeds in the soil for growing a new crop of native trees than with all the money we have spent planting new ones. We get 90% mortality here if the young newly planted trees are not protected with tree tubes or some other type of protection.
We always enjoy reading your articles.
Totally agree Jim. Not only do the tree seedlings have to contend with squirrels and deer but the allelopathic influence from Tall Fescue does a number on them as well. Plus, as I think you have commented here about, the fungi to bacteria ratio in pasture is not well suited to inserting tree seedlings. Thanks again for dropping in and commenting.
Sounds heavenly in Swoope! Thanks for sharing the fruits of your labor,
Great Article Bobby, I’m only a mile away and want to move to where you are. I have been seeing that eagle that you referred to a lot here at camp. Hopefully it continues to return.
Harrison, that Eagle nests on Franks farm. They are considered “resident” birds now. Thanks for posting a comment.
A lovely reminder of the beauty of the changing seasons. And I can taste those figs with the blue cheese. Yum!
Masterfully written and orchestrated. Thanks for the memories. I could taste the figs, savor the wine, and drink in that sunset. You know how to live, brother.
Thanks for the warm and welcome break from my daily fight to beat back my email beast!
I’ll have to try the Catalpa Worms. I’d given up on fishing catapillars in third grade because the sunfish in Lake Boone near where I grew up detested gypsy moth and tent catapillars. Perhaps I shouldn’t have sworn off the entire species!
Hey Jeff, glad I could brighten your day. The Catalpa worms are smooth and would think a bass would go for it.
Nature at its finest! You didn’t mention any Boxelder coming up with the other trees. Have you escaped their march forward?
What kind of fig tree did you plant, and how old is it?
Joe, thanks for the comment. I haven’t seen any Boxelder here but I know it’s one of the pioneer tree species and I have seen it in many riparian areas. We planted a Brown Turkey Fig many years ago, it’s gotten hard frozen for years and has never produced a finished fruit until this year.
What a beautiful word picture you have painted. “Almost Swoope” is pretty fantastic too right now. Our goats are strung out in three fields, munching away. The boys are very agitated and smelly these days. They want to share the news of their award-winning cashmere and get the chance to pass along some of those genes. Hyacinth is parading her stuff announcing her Reserve Champion Doe status. They are such a hoot.
I love figs. Hadn’t thought that they would prodcue out here. While the mild weather of the last year is probably the reason, I do hope that this winter is colder and we can get the parasites under better control!
We’re having a burn on Tuesday in case you see smolke from our direction.
Thanks Louise for your kind words. Congrats on the cashmere award and reserve champ status. I think we will be having our 8th burn soon. Thanks for stopping by.
That sounds like a great place to relax and really appreciate your surroundings. I especially enjoyed your description of the different birds in your area. The picture of your calves is very nice as well.
Glad to hear how many different trees came in and I’m jealous that you got to witness the “Warbler Wave.” I hadn’t realized that Tall Fescue is perfectly fine for the cattle’s health if it’s cold enough. So it’s only toxic when hot? Also, is there any way to avoid Catalpa worms from killing the Catalpa trees? (besides manual removal).
I hope you feel better Professor!
Sarah, thanks I am feeling better already. I’m not sure I can answer your question about fescue, we do know that it is more toxic when the temperatures are above 73 degrees. Now for the Catalpa caterpillars; they don’t kill the tree they defoliate it but it does come back.
The way that Swoope is described here, reminds me of a A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Very descriptive but yet informative, while reading it you can almost place yourself in Swoope on that very day. Enjoyed reading this post very much and would like to read more post like this.
Kyle, thanks for your kind words. If you like this one you should read this one:
Very fun post, Prof. I never heard of Figs with blue cheese on them, I might have to give it a try when I head back home to Virginia Beach this weekend as my neighbor has a fig tree that I have access to. The fact that you made your passion in to a profession and still have the ability to sit back and enjoy the being outside just as much as ever is really inspiring. I hope that I can be as lucky as you to find a job that I absolutely love and while being able to spend my free time in nature and enjoy it just as much as I so now.
Mark, those are very nice words and you can have that dream job. Here’s an old saying,”You find what you are looking for.”
That was a really great post Dr. Whitescarver! The way you described your farm was absolutely beautiful. I hope one day I could own a farm just as beautiful.
Thank you Jessica, I hope you will.
This a wonderfully written blog that truly captures the essence of nature. You made an interesting point about the fig harvest. One might think that being able to harvest figs for the first time was a great success while others may think that it is bad since it indicates global warming. Another thing that struck me was when you mentioned tall fescue. In class, you taught us that it is a very invasive plant that is toxic to horses and cattle when the air temperature is greater than 73 degrees F. Luckily, the weather is getting cooler and the cattle can finally make use of the tall fescue!
This was an introduction into many species that I have never heard of before! The Catalpa worms interested me, and how you said that they are used for fishing bait in the south. Why aren’t they in the ground like most worms? Being on the back of the tree leaf makes me think that they would have a harder exoskeleton than the earth worms I am used to fishing with.
Emily, good questions.The Catalpa worms aren’t really worms; they are larvae and they will pupate before winter and overwinter that way. They will emerge as adults next spring, lay eggs and the larvae will again eat the Catalpa leaves.
Wow, it sounds like a great place to be! The Shenandoah Valley sure holds breathtaking scenery that especially seems to come alive in the Autumn months. Are Catalpa worms bad for the trees? Doesn’t sound like they are here, but a thousand of them could eat a lot of leaves. You sure painted a beautiful picture here, professor. Good luck with your calves this winter!
Cameron, thanks for your kind words. The caterpillars don’t really kill the tree, they defoliate it and it comes back – hopefully.