Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Just A Phase

There is something very satisfying about
bringing in the firewood supply for winter.
This week has been productive, but not in the usual manner. Since returning to 'the property' for our first long stay, we have had a list of projects that all pertain to getting our off grid life set up - solar panels, the well, wiring the house, etc. This past week has been more devoted to the chores that will constitute our established off grid life. The main chore this week has been bringing in firewood. Besides another stop at the business where we can get the scrap lumber (see my last post) we also found two sources of fire wood on Craig's List. One was a one time single load as the people were moving and were not taking the firewood with them, but the other is a local woman and her young son who have an ongoing supply, so we will be making more trips there. Once we have a cold spell that will hopefully decrease the insect population in our woods, I am going to also start dragging fallen limbs etc, down to the house.

Our last trip to pick up the lumber scraps also netted us quite a bit of longer length lumber. Between our trips there, one of the employees had taken home most of the scrap wood we could not fit in Truck on our first trip. He said they needed to clean up the area to make room for a work project, so there was only about a quarter of a truckload of wood scraps, and that was mainly small kindling pieces. However, the worker pointed to a large stack of scrap lumber right outside the door and said we could take whatever we wanted of that as well. About half of it was old jigs (templates) they had built to use as guides for constructing various parts of the buildings, and these would not fit in our truck. But there was also a good bit of straight lumber pieces, some 2x6x10', and we loaded all of that on the truck.

While driving home, Alan mentioned that we did not have to cut up all the lumber for firewood, we could leave it as is in case we came up with another use for it. We could always turn it into firewood at a later date if we needed it. Little did he know I was already thinking of plans for it. The 'soil' on our property if about 90% rocks and 10% dirt, so I have been planning on putting in some raised beds for a garden. Until this week, this has been one of the longer range plans - maybe working on building the raised beds this winter as time and funds permit to have some ready for spring planting. But, with the free lumber, and the fact that I saw Lowe's has some raspberry and blackberry starters on clearance last time we were there, may move this project up on the list.

That night I googled growing berries in raised beds to make sure my idea would work. I did not know if the plants would survive the winters in raised beds verses having their root system in the actual ground. I thought the dirt in the raised beds might freeze more and not sustain the roots, but I found plans online for making raised beds for berries, so it doesn't seem to be a problem. Now I just need to get back to Lowe's to pick up the berry starters before they are all gone. BTW, last time I was there I picked up a gallon of 'oops' stain that I did not have a use for, it will be perfect for staining the raised beds. The only uncertainty left now is if the berries will survive such a late season planting. All the recommendations I read said to plant in the spring, but the plants are cheap enough that it is worth a try. If they don't survive, I will still have completed constructing some of my raised beds.

While working outside this week stacking lumber, Alan and I noticed a plethora (love that word for some reason) of colorful, pudgy caterpillars inching along the ground. They are about an inch and a half long and range in color from cream/tan to dark red/brown. This is just one more phase we have come into since we started coming down to the property. We started listing all the various phases we have noticed over the summer. Most of these are insect related and it will be interesting to see how consistent they are from year to year. Here is a list of the ones we came up with:
This praying mantis is practicing for
Cirque du Soleil
1. Ticks  (primarily April & May according to the locals)
2. Katydids (they were here when we arrived on June 25th and lasted through mid-August)
3. Grass spiders (became very prevalent in July and then petered out in August)
4. Daddy Long Legs (we saw the 'swarms' in July and are still having many individual sightings)
5. Walking Sticks (they were here when we arrived in late June, we saw two on Truck just last week)
6. Praying Mantis (same period as the walking sticks, we saw one walking across a spider web a few days ago)
7. Bees (started about the first of September and still going)
8. Caterpillars (same as the bees but more friendly)
9. Oak tree 'seeds-thingies' (started a bit before we stared seeing the caterpillars (a significant fact), still going)

A plethora of 'seed-thingies'
keep falling onto the deck.
I have covered most of these phases in previous posts, but here are a few details on the newer ones: bees, caterpillars and oak tree seed-thingies. The bees are something we are familiar with up north, come the first signs of fall the honey bees seem to become both lethargic and aggressive at the same time. Up north we would notice them buzzing around garbage cans at picnic events and such. Down here they are more noticeable, probably because we are outdoors more and they tend to hover around us as we work. The caterpillars were discussed above, but they actually tie in with the small black granules (seed-thingies) dropping from the oak trees and covering our deck.

These were covering  a 4x8 sheet
of plywood on the deck and I had
just swept it clean a couple days ago.
I am guessing these things are only falling from the oak trees because they are only collecting on the deck beneath the oak trees. If you stand quietly on a calm day you can actually hear them falling throughout our woods. The are falling so steadily it sounds like a gentle rain fall. Sit outside, and you feel them hit you as they fall. It has rained once since these started accumulating and after the rain they all looked like small brown gelatinous blobs (think small life slugs). Yep, they were as gross as it sounds and there were thousands on the deck and the glass top patio table we had just placed out there for the solar oven. At that point, I became even more confused as to what these things were. If they were a part of the tree, I did not think they would dissolve when they got wet. However, when wet they did turn the water they were in brown, just like the tannic acid in oak trees does.

Looks like The Very Hungry Caterpillar has
come to our property and brought a lot of friends.
They really should have brought some
porta-potties for such along event.
I decided to google it, but it took a few combinations of search words to get a possible answer. 'Oak tree seeds', of course, brought up articles on acorns. 'black granules falling from oak trees' got me a bit closer with lists of various diseases that can attack oaks. By following a few threads I learned that there are both aphids and caterpillars that can devour oak leaves and that these black granules are frass, which is the scientific term for caterpillar poop (yuck, those hard little beads fell in my hair when I was sitting on the deck!). To verify this, I was contemplating placing a caterpillar and oak leaf in a jar to see what showed up, but I really didn't want to confirm this. I did check out the oak branches above the deck and most have been eaten bare. I did google 'caterpillar frass' and, sure enough, there were photos that confirmed this phase was being generated by the caterpillars and not the trees, well technically the trees were a part of the cycle. When I told Alan the results of my research he was still in disbelief, how could there be so much caterpillar poop falling from the trees? I showed him the bare branches that contained only scraggly leaf skeletons and it became a little more believable. Plus the fact that we know the oaks are homes for myriads of katydids during the summer makes it more plausible that they can become a buffet for thousands of caterpillars as well.

Today we came across what may become yet another phase of nature down here, although we are hoping it does not follow in the footsteps of the population explosion of katydids and caterpillars we experienced this Summer and Fall. We saw our first snake! We actually only saw the last couple of feet as it slithered under Scoot (our VW), not enough to confidently identify it, but what we saw was solid black and I am pretty sure it was a North American Racer which is not dangerous.

These changes in nature through the year are fun to observe, we are learning a lot, but won't let it 'phase us' too much! I'll keep you posted as we move into Fall in the Ozarks!Now I'm off to wash my hair again!


  1. Just mulch the plants heavily once colder weather starts. They should be fine. I've planted many a thing in the fall that wasn't recommended but they survived. One tip - before you plant - soak the roots in water for an hour or so. Then water really well.

  2. I would explore hydroponic gardening indoors!