Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oh, My Gourd!

No matter what their size, shape or color, nothing symbolizes autumn and Thanksgiving quite like pumpkins. All pumpkins and squashes are technically fruits and are members of the Cucurbitaceous family. Native Americans called this fruit “isquotm squash” but the term pumpkin came from the Greek term “pepon” meaning sun-ripened large melon. The French pronounced it “pompon” and the English language further modified it to “pumpion.” Finally, thank goodness, the colonists settled on pumpkin. 
  • Pumpkins are grown on every continent but Antarctica and were once thought to be a cure for freckles and snakes bites.
  • The largest-ever carved pumpkin was one with a 17-foot circumference and weighed approximately 1,469 pounds.
  • Floydada, Texas is the pumpkin capital of the US. (www.floydadapumpkins.com)
  • The Keene, N.H. pumpkin fest holds a contest for the most lit jack-o-lanterns in one place and holds the world record of 1,628 pumpkins.
  • Check out Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever where author, Susan Warren, relates the year in the life of two giant pumpkin growers in New England.
  • Mini pumpkins can be used as candle holders
  • You can make a moisturizing face mask from canned pumpkin
  • The seeds, when baked, are edible.
  • You can make pumpkin pie, bread, waffles, biscuits, soup, custard. . . . . .
I have tried to grow my own to no avail. However, my friends and acquaintances know to save me their uncarved pumpkins. Why you ask? To make pumpkin puree! I look for pumpkins deep orange in color and  a stem of about 3-4 inches (stemless pumpkins do not keep as well). Uncarved pumpkins will last past Thanksgiving and are perfect for cooking – just be sure that the pumpkin does not succumb to a freeze outside. Good choices for cooking are Small Sugar, New England pie, Baby Pam and Lumina.

There are several ways to cook a pumpkin but my favorite is to halve, scrape, pierce and microwave.

The flesh can then pureed and stored in freezer bags for future use.

Or, I make refrigerator pumpkin butter. Here is my recipe:
  •  3cups pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Combine all, except lemon juice, in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, pour into sterilized jars and cool. Store in refrigerator or freezer. The butter is good on muffins, bread, waffles, ice cream and cereal.

NOTE: The USDA Extension Service does NOT recommend canning pumpkin in a hot water bath. See the following link: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_can_pump.pdf.

Pumpkins may have warts, bumps, and bulges and be fat but isn’t that like most of us?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I am a Master Naturalist

Animal Tracking at NatureFest
Speckled king snake

Building a crappie habitat

Recently, I completed a three month long in-depth course of study regarding nature. I am sure you think me crazy! However, the classes offered by Smith County Agri-Life and Texas Parks and Wildlife have qualified me to teach and lead interpretive programs in all aspects of nature. Some of the curriculum covered was: geology, soils, weather, climate, ecosystems, archeology, mammology, ecology, herpetology, ichthyology, entomology, rangeland management, wetlands, forestry, ornithology, plant naming, aquatic ecology, and urban systems. Whew!!! Some trivia for you - Texas has 1200 different types of soil, the oldest rocks in Texas are in the trans- Pecos, the state fish is the Guadalupe Bass, and birds' bones are hollow. Recently 3 other MNs and I plus two Texas Parks and Wildlife guys went to the Old Sabine River Bottom around 6:00 p.m. We pulled up turtle and minnow traps and turned over coverboards. We identified two Western Ribbon Snakes, a Western Mud Snake, a Speckled King Snake, a Leopard Frog, two Bullfrogs, a five-lined skink, a ground skink, a few mice, assorted tadpoles, crawfish and dragonfly nymphs. The only thing biting were the mosquitoes.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Oh, Deer!

Spending the Evening with Four Men in the Back of a Pickup Truck

Wood County, Texas’ Holly Lake Ranch has a lot of deer. So many have been seen that community leaders determined a spotlight deer survey needed to be performed to see exactly how many. So, guess whose little hand went up to volunteer to help with this endeavor? Right, mine. I bet you all are jealous that you were not the ones riding around in pick ‘em truck in the middle of the night. The following is a recount, to the best of my recollection, of this fun filled evening and exactly what we did.

Our community obtained a vehicle just for this special occasion. Now this truck isn’t one of the new, cute girly trucks. It is a big, old F110 with a bench seat that is held together with duck tape and baling wire. A board is secured, with vice type clamps, across the sides of the bed truck for seating for the spotters. Spotlights are wired into a battery in the cab. There is a lawn chair for the recorder. There is a driver, two spotters and a recorder. It was deemed that this journey should begin at 9:00 p.m.

Now, I don’t remember drawing straws on who gets to do what. Remember we have one driver, two spotlight people and one recorder. I guess community officials determined that I could neither operate a spotlight nor a pencil and paper. So, guess who got to drive the truck for the deer count . . . moi!!! Hoping everyone’s life insurance is fully paid, I acquiesced.

Now, since the bench seat was unmovable, I had to pull myself up by holding onto the steering wheel just to reach the gas and brake pedals. Thank goodness it was not a manual transmission. I could barely see over the steering wheel let alone the hood of the truck. I had to drive the truck at a speed of 5-7 miles per hour for 4 hours all the while holding myself up by grasping the steering wheel. No causalities occurred but one mailbox came close to being creamed.

Now on to the count. Three counts are taken during a period and then a Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist will extrapolate the data. He will train a Wildlife Group here in our community in these computations so that we may do this study on a yearly basis. But for all you math whizzes out there, I am going to give you the formulas. Get your slide rules ready.

The first task is taking visibility readings every 1/10th mile. The following formula is used to convert 1/10-mile visibility estimates into acres of visibility:

Total yards of visibilities / number of 1/10mile stops +1 X Number of miles X 1,760 / 4,840 = Visible Acres.  For example, a 7.7-mile line with 4,744 total yards of visibility the formula would be: 4,744 / 77 + 1 X 7.7 X 1,760 / 4,840 = 170.29 acres. Got that?

Then you divide the total number of deer into the total number of visible acres observed to determine the number of acres per deer on the route. For example: 1,260 acres (one spotlight survey route run 3 times with 420 acres of visibility) divided by 90 (total number of deer observed on that spotlight survey route run 3 times) = one deer per 14.00 acres. The estimated deer population for this area can then be estimated by dividing the total acres by the estimated acres per deer figure. For example, the deer population estimate for a 5,000 acres ranch with a deer density of one deer per 14.00 acres is 357 total deer.

Also included in this survey will be buck, doe, and fawn ratios. An estimate of the number of bucks, does, and fawns in the population can then be determined by multiplying the total number of deer by the percent of all deer identified that were bucks, does, and fawns. For example:

357 Deer X 0.20 (% identified as bucks) = 71 bucks,
357 Deer X 0.50 (% identified as does) = 179 does, and
357 Deer X 0.30 (% identified as fawns) = 107 fawns
 TOTAL = 357 deer

In addition, deer identified as bucks, does, and fawns from the spotlight surveys can provide important information on the buck to doe and fawn to doe ratios. Herd composition is crucial to management of deer populations. The ratio of bucks to does provides information on survival of both sexes and is an indicator of hunting pressure on each sex. Fall fawn per doe ratios provide a good index of fawn survival.

Well, if that doesn’t curdle your brain, I don’t know what will. Whatever the final numbers are, it is good that the community is being proactive in keeping our area beautiful with herd of healthy, vibrant deer.