Monday, October 17, 2016

Western White Clematis, also known as Virgin's Bower

      I have finally discovered the name of the most likely source of my unexpected fall honey crop.  A friend from church advised me that the mystery vine, covered with white flowers is none other than Western White Clematis, also known as Virgin's Bower.  Once I had determined the name of the plant, I went on line to learn more about it.  Several web sites listed it as a minor honey plant, indicating that there usually isn't enough of it in one place to make a major contribution to the bees honey crop.  In our location it is quite plentiful along the river and the canal.  Every time I looked at it in late August and throughout September the blossoms were being worked by lots of honeybees.  It is very possible that there were other plants the bees were also working at that time, but I didn't notice any.  I took the dogs on a walk down by the canal almost every day that I was home so I have about six weeks of observations as to how much the bees seemed to like that particular blossom.

Western White Clematis, aka Virgin's Bower
    There is one way I can remove all doubt as to the source of my August and September honey harvest.  I can mail a sample of the honey along with a fifty dollar check to Texas A & M University.  They have developed a pretty accurate method of determining the floral source of any given honey sample.  They first determine the pollen content of the honey.  I'm not quite sure how they do that, but every floral source leaves a pollen fingerprint. When the bees are collecting nectar they can't help but get some pollen in the nectar. Based on the percentages of the various types of pollen found in the honey, the scientists can determine what the floral sources were.  Normally I am not sufficiently curious such that I would pay someone to determine the floral source of the honey my bees had collected.  Due to the fact that we are living in a new place and I am unfamiliar with what is available for my bees, I'm a little more willing to pony up the money to get a definitive answer.

After pollination the blossoms develop a hairy look similar to the Truffula trees in The Lorax 
            Another interesting thing about our new home is that there are lots and lots of praying mantises on our property.  I've found large green mantises and large brown mantises.  I've also found a lot of mantis egg cases in all sorts of places.  A month or so back, I was downstairs talking to my mom when I heard a blood curdling scream from upstairs.  I ran upstairs only to find Linda doing the praying mantis version of the bee dance with a very large praying mantis clinging to her shoulder for dear life.  Apparently,  the mantis had climbed onto her shoulder when Linda had gone out onto the front deck to water some plants.  I think it was a pretty traumatic experience for the both of them. I was able to rescue the mantis and return her safely to the outdoors.

The very mantis which terrorized Linda so much

A Mantis Egg Case

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Meeting a Mink

    On my daily walks along the canal with the dogs we often see wildlife.  The list thus far has included deer, a beaver, a muskrat, bullfrogs, a turtle, Canada Geese, Mallards, Kingfishers, White pelicans, California Quail, and Mourning Doves.  Ali particularly enjoys "pointing out" the quails.  So yesterday morning I'm walking the dogs and we had just crossed the bridge to turn south on the canal road when Ali drops into the most beautiful point.  I was puzzled at first because she was pointed in the direction of the canal.  Just across the canal is a place where there are often quail, but Ali usually ignores the birds that aren't on our side of the canal.  After a moment I realized that she was pointing at a little mink on the canal bank not six feet away from us.

      At this point Oreo lunged after the mink which then moved down the bank to hide in the horsetails growing there.  Oreo was extremely lucky that I had a firm grip on his leash and he wasn't able to have his heart's desire at that very moment. If he had gotten loose that little mink would have probably rearranged his face and caused him some serious injury.  The expression "Wild as a mink" has a very firm basis in fact. They are very much like a weasel with bigger teeth and claws.  Fortunately, I kept my grip on his leash and Oreo still has his rakish good looks.

     The close encounter with the mink got both of the dogs seriously excited.  Ali was in serious hunting mode for the remainder of the walk.  I am amazed at her energy when she gets into hunting mode. It is hard to reconcile that with her 13 years of age.  Oreo often tugs hard at his leash, but usually settles down by the second half of the walk.  After meeting the mink, they both drug me along all the way back to our driveway.

      I looked up minks on wikipedia after we had finished our walk.  I didn't realize they lived in our area. I expected that they would more likely be found living in the mountains.  As it turns out minks eat a lot of fish, frogs, and tadpoles and like to make their dens along rivers and creeks.  In fact minks will often attack and kill muskrats and then take over their homes.  Our canal is absolutely full of small fish, frogs, and tadpoles so I guess that was a perfectly natural place to find a mink.

     Speaking of Ali's age. I found her pedigree as I was preparing to take her to see the vet.  Her full name is Miss Ali Girl, born on July 3, 2003, the daughter of Valley View Bandit and Valley View Debby.  Since English Setters are hunting dogs, the pedigree actually lists how well her immediate ancestors had performed in hunting field trials.  Neither of her parents had participated in the field trials but it appears that her maternal grandparents were serious hunting dogs.  Her maternal grandfather, Whiskyndick's Lad Duffy, had placed 16 times in field trials, while her maternal great grandfather, CH I'm Dick Too, had placed 51 times in field trials.  However, the most serious hunting dog on her family tree was her grandmother's father, Tomoka's Smokin Mike, who placed 120 times in field trials and produced 49 winners among his numerous progeny.  With that sort of family background it is no wonder that Ali has such strong hunting instincts and knows just what to do when she sniffs out some quail.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Buster's New Home

      Towards the back of our property there is an old shed.  The previous owners had once used it for cattle, but that had been a number of years ago.  It was pretty nasty on the inside, filled with old junk and cow manure.  I got to looking at the shed and found that it was more structurally sound than it had appeared to be. The west wall of the shed is indeed dilapidated and needs to be replaced, but the rest of the building is reasonably sound. I decided that it was worth rehabilitating the shed to serve as housing for our goat, Buster, ands whatever other animals we eventually collect.  I'm thinking about eventually doing sheep and maybe pigs.

     My daughter, Rachel, and her family visited us this past weekend.  Her husband, Chet did some serious lobbying for favorite son-in-law status as he spent most of this past Saturday helping me clean out the old shed to make it useable. The first order of business was to pull out most of the junk and wood.  After we had cleared out most of the interior, we moved one of the interior support posts so it was lined up with a second support post. Then we installed a third support post.  We attached heavy duty cattle panels to the posts to create a pen.  Yesterday and today I made and installed a gate for the pen. The pen was finally completed this afternoon.

     The last task was to remove the piece of fencing that blocked Buster's access to the barn.  I had Buster's full undivided attention while I worked on this.  I don't think he was focused on the barn entrance as much as he was on the vines which grew around the barn entrance.  Once the fencing was down, Buster immediately plunged through the opening and happily began munching on the vines.  However, a few minutes later he did notice the entrance to the barn and went inside to check out the space.  He seemed happy with the place although I'm not very good at translating goat bleats.  The place still needs to be cleaned up a bit more and could use a few bales of fresh straw.  I will also need to replace the western wall before winter comes.  In spite of the work remaining to be done I'm happy to declare victory of the time being.


Buster's New Home

Homemade Gate

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A New Place in the Sun

    I apologize for the lack of posts over the past six months. Frankly, I was too involved with preparing a house for sale, selling a house, buying a house, and moving all of our household goods to our new home in West Richland, Washington.   The move was very painful for me. It was difficult to move away from dear friends and to leave my fruit trees, grape vines, and vegetable gardens behind. It was also painful to forego having a vegetable garden this year.  However, there is also a lot of up side to the move.

     First of all, it is much cheaper to live over here.  We were able to buy more house for less money on three irrigated acres.  The cost of many things have decreased significantly, such as trash pickup, electricity, and car insurance.  Since we are trying to actually retire, living life a little more cheaply makes a lot of sense.  Secondly,  it is very nice being closer to my extended family, most of whom live in the Tri City area.  It is particularly nice for my 84 year old mother to live closer to more of her children.  Third, I can grow a lot of things in eastern Washington that I could never have grown in western Washington, such as watermelons and other heat loving vegetables and fruits.  Other things are simply a lot easier to grow here such as tomatoes, grapes and cherries.  I am really looking forward to next year's vegetable garden.  While it is painful to start over with grape vines and fruit trees, I have a much bigger area here for such things. Lastly, at some point, after the sale of the bee store, I will have room to raise a small flock of sheep and to raise some pigs. At least that is the plan for now.

      This past week I finally brought our pygora goat, Buster, to his new home.  Friends in Snohomish had been goat sitting Buster for the past few months.  Buster's welcome there had started to wear thin due to his escape artist ways.  Fortunately, I had a seriously goat proof  pasture all ready for him.  I loaded him up on Wednesday evening and drove him over the mountains to his new home.  The trip went well.  Adjusting to his new home did not go as well. Unfortunately, Buster had a traumatic experience with a few dogs while at the goat sitters.  This made him very nervous about our dog. Allie, and Oreo, the little dog we are currently watching for our daughter.  Buster panicked when he saw the dogs, and ran into the well house, breaking a pvc pipe connection that caused a two and a half day water outage.  We just finally got the water back on in the house late Saturday afternoon.  The irrigation water wasn't interrupted as that is a separate system. However,  things were a bit inconvenient for a few days.

      We were real fortunate to have a new friend from church who is a retired plumber.  We were also fortunate in that the repair process lead us to discover that the bladder in one of the pressure tanks had started to leak.  A few days ago, I wouldn't have even known why that was significant. I have learned a little bit about plumbing and wells over the past few days. The pressure tanks provide water pressure but they also help protect the well pump by reducing the number of times the pump has to turn on and off.  Apparently, starting and stopping are harder on a submerged pump that continuous running.  Having two working pressure tanks extends the life of the well pump, which is a much more expensive repair.  I'm still not feeling grateful to Buster, but it may have been a good thing that we had to fix the water system.

      One thing I have really enjoyed about our move is our new dog.  Allie is a English Setter, about ten years old, who we ended up adopting from the prior owner of the property.  It only took a few weeks of regular walks for Allie to figure out that she was my dog.  When she is off leash and we're sitting out front, Allie isn't content until she can find a place to lay down or sit next to me. She is very well behaved but seems to have a few quirks.  First of all, she rarely barks.  I have only heard her bark once since we have had her.  That lone bark happened when Mrs Buzz Saw hissed at her.  Her previous owner told me that she will bark at coyotes if they are at the back fence.  We have taken her to the Columbia River a few times where we learned that she doesn't like to swim but enjoys wading.  She also doesn't seem to know how to fetch.  When I'm walking Allie, I have to hold the leash in my right hand and she has to walk on my right side.  If I transfer the leash to my left hand, Allie will circle around behind and come back to my right side.

     I try to walk the dogs first thing every morning that I am home. It gives me some incentive to get a little more exercise.  I have been walking them along the canal road which doesn't have very much vehicle traffic.  The climax of the walk for Allie is when she finds some quail, which she usually does.  There are quite a few quail living in the vicinity of the canal and we have seen as many as 70 on one walk.  When she smells the birds, she immediately comes to attention and goes into stalk mode.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mrs Buzz Saw Update - November, 2015

    I was informed that some of my grandchildren were hungry for news about Mrs Buzz Saw's daily activities. I have some reservations as to whether that is a good idea. Mrs Buzz Saw tends to alternate between being lazy, behaving badly, and intense neediness. However, to comply with the wishes of my darling grandchildren I've decided to do this post anyway.
Mrs Buzz Saw doing what she does best

    The above photo depicts Mrs Buzz Saw doing what she does for most of any given day, that is indulging in extreme laziness. She takes laziness to an art form. Her two favorite locations for this activity are one, on the back of the living room chair closest to the front window, and two, on our bed, usually curled up next to Linda's laptop.  I'm not too sure the time she spends on our bed stems from any loyalty or love she feels for us. I think she likes to lie next to the laptop because its like sitting next to a little heater. The laptop's cooling fan sends a constant jet of warm air in her direction. I think she likes the back of the living room chair because of the wonderful view it gives her of small helpless birds should she actually wake up for a few moments.

Examples of Mrs Buzz Saw's Needle Felting

     Mrs Buzz Saw has a number of favorite activities that can all be grouped under the general heading of "behaving badly." She has recently taken up the hobby of needle felting. If she can get access to any of my wool bats she delights in working them over with their claws until they are all felted together such that they could never be spun into yarn.  I would be more supportive of her needle felting if she formed the wool into any sort of useful shape. Sadly, she only does abstract free form sculptures.  She also like to sharpen her claws on the upholstery. We got her a scratching post once, but she ignored it in favor of Linda's couches and chairs.

Catching mice and rats does have my full support 

    In addition to her needle felting Mrs Buzz Saw also enjoys hunting, specializing in small helpless creatures.  This is a hobby which I halfway support. That half being the vermin she kills such as mice, rats, and moles. She really is a skilled hunter and does have some positive impact on reducing our vermin population. The half I don't support consists of all the little song birds she kills.  While she eats a portion of her prey, she sometimes decides to share them with us.  It is not uncommon to get up in the morning and find Mrs Buzz Saw has left a dead bird or mouse on the welcome mat.  Once I found a rather long rat tail and an undetermined internal organ on the mat on the back deck.  Sometimes in lieu of a bird there are just a few feathers. This morning I found a decapitated chickadee at my back door. I could add bird watching to her list of favorite activities, but she only likes watching birds as prospective prey. When I refill the bird feeder I have to remember to move the ladder back away from the feeder. If I don't take the time to move the ladder, Mrs Buzz Saw will climb to the top of the ladder and watch the feeder from a few feet away.  Oddly enough, the birds are reluctant to use the feeder with a hungry cat sitting close by.
Mrs Buzz Saw likes the "high ground"

    The last category, "intense neediness", usually manifests itself after we return from a trip.  I will try to sit down to watch a football game only to discover that isn't going to happen until after Mrs Buzz Saw's need for petting is satisfied.  My options at that point are to either walk downstairs to throw out the cat or simply give the cat what she wants and watch the football game over or around the cat for a few minutes.

Nature in my backyard.

   I haven't posted for a while, a reflection of things being busy at the bee store and teaching beginning beekeeping classes two or three days a week.  We're getting closer to the package bee craziness, but at least all of the bee classes are through.

   I had a quiet morning at home on Monday and was surprised to see a humming bird.  I am amazed that such a small bird with such huge energy requirements can be active when the temperature is in the 40s.  The high on Monday was only about 55 and it wasn't much above 40 degrees Fahrenheit at 8:00 am. Sadly, the humming bird wouldn't stay in one place long enough for a photo.

The rough skinned newt when I first noticed him.

   On Thursday morning last week I was putting out the trash cans.  When I went to move our big blue recycle bin I saw a little salamander next to the can.  I needed to move the can but I didn't want to run over the salamander so I moved him out of the way with a stick.  As soon as I moved him the salamander went stiff and bent into an odd position that exposed it's bright orange belly.   I took some photos and then spent some time on the internet trying to identify the type of salamander.   It turned out to be a rough skinned newt.  That identification was later confirmed by a zoologist friend. The rough skinned newt is native to Western Washington and Oregon. They are poisonous to eat, their skin having the same poison found in puffer fish.  Apparently someone once ate one on a dare and died a half hour later.  That explained the odd behavior when I moved the salamander. His bright orange belly was advertising that he was poisonous.

The newt after I touched him with a stick
        I was amazed to learn we had a local creature that was so deadly poisonous.  If they were larger their poisonous nature might be more commonly known.  As it stands, they are so small that even the most adventurous survivalist probably wouldn't be tempted to eat one.  I'm guessing the death I mentioned above probably involved alcohol.

Morels growing in our yard

       On an edible note, I discovered these beauties growing in my back yard.  More specifically, my grand daughter, Hannah Kang, asked me about the weird mushroom she found in the back yard. I was amazed to find they were morels.  They were growing where we had briefly had an above ground pool for last summer's cousin camp.  We had to bring in some dirt to even the lawn before we replanted the grass.  I can only surmise the morel spawn was in the dirt we imported.  Morels are supposed to form a symbiotic relationship with certain tree species. Morels are somewhat mysterious compared to other mushrooms.  They don't appear in the same places from year to year.  In Washington State they tend to appear in old burns up in the mountains. This past summer having been a bad fire year, this spring is predicted to be a wonderful morel year.

      Morels also happen to be the first wild mushrooms I ever hunted.  When I was about eleven years old we lived in Centerville, Iowa.  My grandparents, Guy Dudley Tunnell and Sylvia Linnia Lee lived on an 80 acre farm, a few miles west of Mystic Iowa, about eight miles from Centerville.  One spring we hunted for morels in a small oak forest across the road from my grandfather's farm.  I knew next to nothing about mushrooms at that time.  Someone showed me what they looked like and I got busy hunting.  I think all kids enjoy a treasure hunt.  I don't remember exactly how much we found, but it was a significant amount. We ate them sautéed. I remember them tasting a bit odd to my eleven year old palate.  I learned to appreciate the taste more as I grew older.  I used some of my backyard morels last Saturday in a wonderful mushroom gravy over pork chops.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Family History Friday, #18, Mary Ann Erskin and Jonathan Calvin Cunningham

     I thought I would write a little about my maternal third great grandmother, Mary Ann Erskin.  She was the second wife of Jonathan Calvin Cunningham, his first wife having divorced him at the end of the Civil War. Jonathan Cunningham served in the Union Army and it appears his first wife favored the other side.  We are descended through Laura Isabel Cunningham, born in 1872, the second daughter of Jonathan Cunningham's second wife.

     I have been searching for information about Mary Ann Erskin since I was sixteen years old, when I first started doing family history work.  At that time all I knew about Jonathan Cunningham's wives is what I learned from the census records.  On the 1860 census in Barren Creek Township, Marion County, Arkansas, I found Jonathan Cunningham living with his first wife, Sarah P Cunningham, each of them 30 years old, and living with two daughters, Elizabeth, age 3, and Nancy, age 7 months. On the 1870 census, still in Barren Creek Township, Marion County, Arkansas, I found Jonathan Cunningham living with his second wife, Mary Cunningham. the census listed his age as 38 and her age as 22. They were living with two daughters, Nancy, age 10 (from the first marriage) and Mary E, age 1.   On the 1880 census in Barren Creek Township, now in the newly formed Baxter County, Arkansas, I found Jonathan Cunningham as a widower, living with three daughters,  Nancy, age 19, Mary E, age 11, and Laura A, age 7.  At this point all I knew about Mary Ann Erskin was that her first name was Mary, she was born in about 1848 in Indiana, and that she probably had died before 1880.  All I found was the one census record that made any mention of Jonathan Cunningham's second wife, Mary.

    Over the years I would come back to Jonathan Calvin Cunningham's family and I did make some progress here and there.  Some years ago my mother purchased a book about the history of Baxter County, Arkansas.  Jonathan Calvin Cunningham is mentioned a number of times in the book, along with other relatives.  I learned that Jonathan Cunningham grew up in a slaveholding family in Tennessee, but was very strongly opposed to slavery.  He had moved to a part of Arkansas where there weren't many slaves in order to get away from slavery. He even declined his mother's offer to loan him sixteen slaves to clear his land in Arkansas.  Jonathan Cunningham owned a boat landing on the White River, but wouldn't allow boats to dock at his landing if they had slave help on board. When the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Union Army to fight against slavery.  Jonathan Cunningham is also mentioned in a book about men from Arkansas who fought in the Union Army, titled "Arkansas' Damn Yankees".  I also learned from the History of Baxter County that Jonathan Cunningham had married Minerva Casteel and after her death had married her older sister, Tabitha Casteel. That book described Minerva Casteel as his second wife and Tabitha as his third wife.

     Other interesting tidbits gleaned from the History of Baxter County include that fact that for a time Jonathan Cunningham was a riverboat pilot on the White River and that he was also part owner of a whiskey distillery. There was a story about a theft from the distillery that resulted in a serious fight between Jonathan Cunningham and one of the alleged thieves.  The distillery was built up on piers to protect it from the river flooding. The enterprising thieves bored a hole into some whiskey barrels from under the floor and drained out some of the inventory.  In the ensuing fight, Jonathan Cunningham is purported to have bitten off the man's ear.

     I tried repeatedly to find a marriage record for any of Jonathan Cunningham's marriages, in Tennessee for the first marriage and in Arkansas for the second marriage.  Eventually, I found a marriage record, dated 4 September, 1874 for Manevia Casteel, age 22, and Jonathan Cunningham, age 45. That would clearly make her the third wife rather than the second.  It would also indicate that Mary Ann Erskin, the second wife, probably died before September, 1874.  Some of this research was conducted on infrequent trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some was conducted the hard way by ordering microfilms from Salt Lake.

    At some point my mother turned up a letter from her great aunt Ellar  (Lurellar Sinor) which listed in detail most of her Baxter County relatives. Aunt Ellar's letter was written in 1970, the year I graduated from high school.  She listed four wives for Jonathan Calvin Cunningham as follows:

wife #1:  Unknown, who had one daughter named Nan Cunningham(not the Nan made famous by the limerick).

wife #2:   Mary Erskins, who had two daughters, Mary Evaline Cunningham and Laura Isabel Cunningham.

wife #3:  Minervia Casteel, who had one daughter who lived, Jane Cunningham (It saddens me to read the phrase "who lived" as I know some of the pain that lies behind that phrase)

wife #4:  Tabitha Casteel, who had two kids who lived, Caroline Cunningham and Jim Cunningham.

     I gradually obtained a little more information regarding Mary Ann Erskin, but it was a painstakingly slow process. I still had no marriage record and I had no clue as to her family other than she was born in about 1848 in Indiana. Now we enter the era of indexing, when thousands of people labor diligently to index many different types of records so that they are searchable on the computer.  Even better than that, Family Search and Ancestry do some searching for us and are always giving us little hints.

    About a week ago I logged into, looked at Jonathan Calvin Cunningham and saw such a little hint, the marriage of "Anna Jonathan Cunningham and Mary Ann Erskin" in Butler County, Missouri on October 10, 1867.  The combination of Jonathan Cunningham and Mary Ann Erskin in the same record instantly grabbed my attention. However, I just knew that the "Anna" had to be wrong.  Fortunately, I was able to look at the original record and verify that was indeed the case. The actual wording of the document (of course written in cursive) was "before me came Jonathan Cunningham and Mary Ann Erskin to be united in the holy bonds of matrimony".  Two indexers and one arbitrator all looked at the word "came" and read it as Anna. We really need to help more people learn to read cursive before it becomes like hieroglyphs.  It also shows just  how helpful indexing can be, in spite of mistakes.  So it wasn't indexed exactly correctly.  It was done well enough for me to finally locate this critical record.

      I took the next step and looked at the 1860 census in Butler County, Missouri and found Mary A Erskin, age 12, living with her parents, John and Mary Erskin, and her six siblings.  There is still a little conflict as to her place of birth. The 1870 census indicates she was born in Indiana. The 1860 census lists Illinois as her place of birth.  I also found her family on the 1850 census in Crawford County, Missouri. The surname was spelled Earskin, but the ages and names of the parents and children matched up. That record also lists her place of birth as Indiana.  I haven't yet looked yet to figure out the locations of Butler and Crawford Counties in Missouri. Their marriage in Butler County raises all sorts of interesting questions. How did they meet?  Did Jonathan Cunningham serve in the army with her father or brother?  I'm also a bit curious about the difference in their ages.  They both lived through the Civil War as well. Obviously they lived both interesting and difficult lives.  I'll look forward to getting to know them better some day.