Friday, March 31, 2017

Keeping Old Apples Alive

A rainy day today was a good reason to get some grafting done. I've bought and traded for dozens of different varieties of scion from old southern apples with names like Black Limbertwig, Arkansas Sweet and Jellyflower Sweet, to old European & English apples called Baker's Delicious, Margil, and Old Nonpareil. Some of the scion are from trees originating in New England that have been known for a century or more like Roxbury Russet, Crows Egg, and Legace and some come from old trees that I've found while hunting for grouse and woodcock. These old trees names have been lost to history so I've given them names like the Wopsy Mountain Sweet from an old tree found on Wopsy Mountain which was holding a sweet apple just before Christmas and the Frugality apple named after a small hamlet of several houses near where it grows. The Clover Run apple comes from a tree in a front yard of a home several hours north of the homestead. I noticed this tree several years ago while traveling to my northern coverts. Every year it would be full of dark red (almost black) apples hanging on after Christmas. Last winter I noticed a man outside and stopped and asked if I could cut some scion. He was very agreeable but admitted he didn't know what variety the tree was so I named it Clover Run after the road he lived on. As much as I enjoy this hobby I have to face the fact that I'm running out of good planting sites on my 66 acres. I've given some away to friends and family and I may just try to sell some locally so that I can keep practicing this hobby (ie. addiction) of grafting apple trees that I've grown so fond of.

Patul is a variety from the Transylvania region of Romania. It's name comes from the place where it was traditionally stored, in hay inside the barn. Harvested in October it was still good to eat in April and May of the next year. It's resistant  to spring frosts and is noted for producing reliable crops each year.

The more uncommon an apple variety is the more I want to grow it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Woodcock on the Stripmines

Yesterday was Emma's turn to seek out some woodcock so we headed north to try a new covert.  We first stopped at a classic looking aspen covert that I've been hunting for years. As beautiful as it looks it never produces the birds that I think it should and today was empty except for some splash.

We moved on to a reclaimed strip mine that I had explored in deer season.  I really don't know what draws the woodcock to this type of terrain but I've been hunting more and more of these strip mines with good results and today was no different. They must be using the pines for a resting spot because the ground is very rocky and I can't imagine they can find any worms here.

There are "islands" of cover that you have to seek out, but the birds were there.

Emma put on her usual fine performance with 4 nice points and I saw several birds flush ahead of her as she entered the cover. Overall it was a wonderful day with a new covert to hunt next fall.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Legacy

People are always asking me when am I going to start sells apples or making  cider from all the apple trees I've been planting.  But my thoughts from the beginning were not to make a profit from my trees but to leave a living legacy for future generations to enjoy. To have the chance to walk through apple trees full of spring blooms or  picking a tree ripened apple, wiping it on their sleeve and taking a crunchy, juicy bite.  My earliest and fondest memories of wandering the woods as a boy were of finding old apple trees, ancient remnants of the past. Planted by some long forgotten farmer who tried to scratch out a living on the poor rocky soil that I now plant my trees in. Most of the rootstock I use for my trees will still be thriving 75 or 100 years after I've planted it and although my name will be long forgotten I can only hope that some wandering hunter or hiker will stumble upon my orchards and wonder about the person who planted these trees all those years ago.

 My first graft of this spring is an Oliver. Grown from a seed on John Oliver's  Arkansas farm in the early 1800's.  It is just one of dozens of old heirloom varieties that I'll be grafting this spring.
My shipment of B118 rootstock.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Back in the Coverts

The snow has melted and the temperature has warmed up so Thicket and I went to Piney Creek in search of woodcock.

The birds were there and Thicket showed more interest in them than earlier trips afield. I was able to get one pic of her on point before she crept in and flushed the bird.
She still has a long way to go, but I believe she's getting over her "distain" for woodcock and hopefully with time and lots of bird contacts she will become a passable woodcock dog.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wicked Mother Nature

The weather has taken a turn for the worst here in southcentral Pa. I received 12 inches of snow yesterday and the temperature is 15 degrees with a stiff wind this morning.  With woodcock sighted much further north than my location I have to wonder how they survive these cold spells.  Do they "hunker down" under a pine tree or blowdown and try to stay warm and dry? How many days can they go without nourishment while their earthworms are out of reach?  No doubt some will die of exposure or be caught by predators while in their weakened state.  The males will no doubt take the brunt of the brutal weather as they are the first to head north to seek out prime "singing grounds" while the more sensible females move north later to  find a mate and a suitable nesting site.  But Mother Nature dictates that only the strong survive to breed on and that they will as they have done for thousands of years.

Here at the homestead I've been filling the bird feeders every few hours as the flocks of cardinals, titmice, chickadees, bluejays and other's fill up on the black oil sunflower seed that will fuel their bodies through the long cold night.


Somehow this sparrow made it's way into our mudroom, perhaps through the dog door. The Peterson Field Guide identified it as a Song Sparrow. After photos I released it unharmed.

Warmer weather is on it's way next week so perhaps I'll be able to get the setters out a few more times into the woodcock coverts before the nesting season starts.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bennett Run Wanderings

Thicket and I headed for the Bennett Run covert on Monday.  It's a small covert in a hollow that requires a hike down off a steep ridge, but it's usually worth it.

The cover is fairly easy walking and the birds were there.

Thicket hunted hard but didn't show any interest in the woodcock.

The highlight of the day was seeing my first fisher on the ride to the covert. I didn't have my camera handy and only managed this one very poor pic as it went behind a tree, but it was an exciting experience never the less.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wandering along Buffalo Creek

Emma and I headed for Buffalo Creek the other day.  The Game Commission has done some serious cutting there last year and hopefully I'll still be hunting when it grows back into woodcock habitat.

There is still some nice cover left to wander through.

Years ago some farmer took the time to plant apple trees, some of which still thrive.

This colorful fungi caught my eye in the otherwise drab landscape.
The namesake of the covert.

Although Emma hunted the covert thoroughly she found only one woodcock.
Near the end of the hunt I saw Emma trip in a tangle and fall on her shoulder and I felt a twinge of sadness as I realized her best years were behind her, but they have been good years with many wonderful memories for me to enjoy.