Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Grapes for Sale!

Asters and goldenrods are starting to bloom, crisp air is moving in, and grape harvest is fully underway across the Ozarks. Drive along I-44 in St. James and see the quaint grape stands selling delicious Concords, grape pies, jam, and all kinds of grapey goodness. This is the year I am going to try my hand at making Norton wine (from juice--at this time I lack all of the expensive equipment to start from grapes). But for those with crushers, stemmers, and everything else needed to process grapes, Meramec Vineyards is selling Norton grapes for .75$ a pound, and Concord and Catawba grapes for even less. Phyllis' Norton wine from Meramec Vineyards is really quite nice and ages very well. I hope that when the day comes that I have my own equipment I'll find an equally good deal on Norton grapes. I picked up a gallon of frozen Concord juice and designer yeast, just waiting on Norton juice to start my own fermentation.

The awesome collaboration between Rolla's Public House Brewery and St. James Winery that resulted in a fantastic brewpub in the St. James Winery parking lot has also encouraged the brewery to experiment with grape juice in their beer making enterprise. The Brewmaster's Select Vignoles IPA sold out earlier this week, but rumor holds they will be making it again, as well as other grape-infused beers such as a Norton Stout (I just may drink a beer when that one comes out.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Glades in August

I never tire of hiking through well-managed, high quality glades in Missouri. Earlier this week, I paid my third visit since April to a stellar dolomite glade in the Niangua Basin to see the beginning of the end of flowering periods. This glade and the adjacent woodlands were burned in January, and every visit since then I've seen increasingly more and more flowering plants in both the woodlands and the glade.

We are in the period of yellow composites, Rudbeckia missouriensis, the Silphiums, the late summer Helianthus occidentalis, blazing stars, all in full flower and serving as magnets for suites of pollinating insects. Unfortunately, I don't know my skippers well at all, but I know I recognized three different species on the brief, casual hike through the composites. Appropriately managed glades are in full bloom now, with the ladies' tresses orchids coming on soon. The woodland Spiranthes orchids are blooming (S. vernalis, especially) and the glade-specific species should be blooming in late September. This site is home to a true motherlode of S. magnicamporum, a glade-specific plant that numbers in the thousands on the dolomite glades here.

Busting through the understory and hiking through glades these days results in covering one's trousers, legs, ankles and abdomen in literally millions of seed ticks, little specks of brown insect life that causes unending itching and redness. Trousers with duct tape around the ankles, horrible chemical spray covering pantlegs and shirt sleeves is required. On Monday, I plan to set out into pristine woods with no trails to flag out firelines for the upcoming prescribed fire season. A heavily chlorinated swimming pool is a necessity after being covered in seed ticks but is unfortunately not in the cards on Monday night. A shower with a brisk scrubbing will have to suffice. Firelines must be flagged. Burn plans must be written. Preparations for the upcoming prescribed season must be made to maintain stellar places like this one.

Monday, August 22, 2016

August is Vignoles Month

It's very fitting that the Missouri Wine and Grape Board designated this sunny late summer month as a time to celebrate the highly diverse Vignoles. Harvest of this lovely white wine grape begins this week in some areas across the state, and wineries are offering special pairings to highlight the rich flavor of my second favorite Missouri white wine (Traminette is #1, Seyval Blanc is #3).

For the record, I very rarely buy white wine; even though there are many fine, supple dry whites in Missouri, I tend to spend my money on the dry reds. Since I don't have a refined palette for the dry whites, I can say that Vignoles reminds me most of the French whites I drank in summers in New Orleans: big, crisp, somewhat buttery (not like a Chardonel), more floral (but not quite so much as Traminette. Since I like flowers, I like Traminette above all the others), sometimes with notes of melon and even green apples. I generally like Vignoles with hard, strong cheeses like Asiago. My fellow Missouri wine-loving friend buys herself Nortons and Vignoles for her partner who tends to prefer the sweeter wines. It's a good gateway wine from sticky Muscat to the dry whites.

All of the rain this summer may make this year's vintage less concentrated as compared to, say, the droughty 2012. Grapes are fat and happy on the vines this August and we're one year away from the total eclipse that will be visible where I live where wine lovers will flock to the blufftop winery and enjoy bottles of Vignoles while watching the sky darken. Ste. Genevieve wine country will also be ground zero for the eclipse, so start booking reservations now....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Before the Levee Breaks

Tripping the light fantastic on a steamy Wednesday afternoon, I pitched camp on an Ozark streambank, a particularly high quality natural community rich with plant life and, in the stream's riffles, brightly colored darters and several species of minnows. Mayflies that next morning were heavy above the fog line on this springfed stream, a visible thick mat of mayflies that coated every surface of my campsite. While I was enjoying a late summer morning on an Ozark stream, the forecast for my former home in South Louisiana was not as pleasant. Tropical patterns were forming, with the forecast of a 500 year flood event slated to occur on all of our rivers outside of Baton Rouge and Denham Springs. Lafayette was also ground zero for the significant rain event. But I was on an Ozark stream earlier this week with no hint of rain.

As reports came in from home this weekend, with unending rain in south Louisiana and no end in sight, I learned of thousands of homes underwater, many friends who lost everything, water rescues from rooftops a la Hurricane Katrina, rivers exceeding their flood stage by 6 ft. and more, and the rain still coming. Because I'm not down there, I don't know if the local stations are reporting about climate change and the direct correlation between these heavy rain events and the changing climates. Hell, my friends and family are without cell phone service with AT&T totally knocked out, so the prospect of major analysis is likely forthcoming, if at all. Hot meals are being delivered to the dorms since most of the roads are closed around major universities and, until today, there was a curfew in place. All because of devastating flooding.

Last month, I was privileged to read a private report (prepared for a colleague from another outfit) from climatologists from Missouri State University that included an analysis of rainfall events in Missouri since the 1950s. Because the report is not public information, I can digest it to explain that since the early 2000s, rain events in the Ozarks, especially the watershed in their study site, have become more intense. More rain over a shorter time duration, so more flash flooding. What this means for this particular watershed is that runoff is faster, more intense, with higher rainfall amounts that causes flash flooding on a regular basis. Perhaps this seems less like rocket science, like a study that shows that squirrels eat acorns, but it is a study on an Ozark watershed and I do hope that soon the information will be widely available (working on that...).

What this unpublished, non-public report shows is that heavy rainfall events have increased in frequency and intensity in the past ten years, corresponding positively to the increasing carbon levels. This huge, spinning storm that is causing catastrophic flooding in Louisiana is heading our way. Springfield has already received 3 inches of rain. Forecasts for the St. Francois Mountains country call for 9 inches of rainfall in two days. After the 10 inch-rain event in December that left Union completely underwater and caused our Ozark streams to become perennially polluted with every known and unknown sewage lagoon and pit latrine, while not forgetting all of the cattle grazing in the watersheds, this next round of flooding is less than desirable.

I'm glad I was able to visit the stream when it was still in good condition. Images from home of nice little rivers like the Vermilion and the Ouiska Chitto roiling like chocolate milk are heartbreaking. Mussel diversity was once high in these streams. The sediment and pollution spreading out throughout southeast, southwest, and south Louisiana are going to not only wreak havoc on homesteads but on wildlife habitat as well. According to weather forecasters, we should be prepared for more of this. The spinning storm is heading our way. Make sure your basements don't have boxes of books on the floor.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Late Summer

It must have been clockwork. My local grocery store turned a switch on July 5, 12:00am. The whole store was bedecked in all-American gear, bunting, flags, pinwheels, and by midnight on July 4, all of that was discounted to 90% off and replaced with Back to School items. Ugh. Crisp folders, lunch boxes with Hello Kitty emblems. While there's much to be loved by the smell of freshly sharpened Dixon-Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils with all that wood smell and fresh lead, it's still summer! The chanterelles have just come out strong, the sunflowers are now blooming, and the suite of cicadas with the varying calls are out throughout the day and night. It's not time for back to school and pumpkin ale!

What with the moist weather, the frequent rains, I still see the leaves of wild ginger and other spring wildflowers, blooms long gone, but vegetation persisting. The rains have resulted in quite a bit of issues, not all positive, with significant flooding in quality watersheds that now have high levels of cyanobacteria and gravel accretion in the streams. I'm not accustomed to early August vegetation being green and in flower, but it is as it is, and it's certainly due to these frequent rain events, more moisture, and unnatural patterns. The katydids are still churning, with their nightly "wrent, wrent, wrent" calls. Summer is still alive and well despite the push in the commercial world to promote Halloween. Tomatoes and peaches are widely available at farmer's markets; check out all those stands that are popping up on rural roads. Man, they have some great summer produce. While I love Missouri apples, I'm not ready for them to replace the peaches.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chanterelle Season

The 10% chance of rain on Friday turned into a steady downpour which left the woods in an incredibly steamy state. Hiking through some hay fields and into the dissected terrain rich with large white oaks and a relatively poor understory of sedges and little else, my trouser legs were soaked only twenty steps in. Nevertheless, a day in the woods beats any day at a desk, and a day in the woods with a stellar mycologist is even better.

When I first moved to Missouri, I gobbled up every kind of natural history information I could gather, so impressed with the intact nature of many thousands of acres. By late June in the chert woodlands where I worked, small, brilliant orange mushrooms began to appear on a trail growing upon relatively bare soil. They weren't very big at all, but my trusty colleague identified them as chanterelles, edible mushrooms that grow each summer throughout Missouri. I collected a few, washed off the dirt that had kicked up on the underside, and sauteed them just as I did regular button mushrooms: olive oil, Cajun seasoning, garlic, and red wine. These little guys barely made a side dish, but they were certainly scrumptious.

The relatively regular rain events in the northern reaches of the Ozarks this summer has resulted in a bumper crop of the beefy, much larger chanterelles, Cantharellus cibarius. On the steamy Friday afternoon, days after I had mentioned to my mycologist friend that I would gladly accept a donation of chanterelles this summer, we came upon a hillside chocked full of large, fresh, beautiful chanterelles. These weren't the small ones I first met, these are huge mushrooms, so large that it would only take two to cover a pizza. The serious mycologist carries paper bags and a knife on forays into the woods. We left the patch to finish our scouting event, and came upon two more hillsides covered in bright mushrooms, patches so large one could spot them many hundred feet away. We had to collect. I was giddy with excitement when my friend handed me a knife to cut the mushrooms at the base so as to keep the mud off of them (easier to clean that way). We filled three sacks on one patch.

Not only has this been a great summer for chanterelles, but for many other kinds of mushrooms. There's a toxic look-alike to chanterelles in Missouri, so before any foraging of edible mushrooms, take extreme caution and positively identify them. I'm fortunate to know a scholarly mycologist. After our trip to the woods, I brought him to my house to help identify the fungi growing in the backyard. The squirrels and insects are doing a great job of devouring them all, but a few remained intact and now I have a curated list for the yardforest! Spending time with experts in the field of natural history is fabulous. I never want to stop learning. Oh, and my large batch of chanterelles will be prepared in many different ways with so many delectable recipes highlighting the natural flavor of this beautiful mushroom.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Classic Eminence

The morning cicada chorus began around 9am that early July afternoon. The night before, I heard my first katydids of the summer through my open window. Summer's wildflower displays are coming on in full force, the perfect time for a hike through the woodlands to the Eminence glade that stretches almost 8 acres along a steep ridge. This may be one of the best examples of an Eminence dolomite glade in the area.

Usually when I'm sampling glades, I will encounter scattered Buchnera americana, sometimes ending up in my plots. The lovely blue flower was dominant across the expanse and in bloom that day. The flowerheads of Rudbeckia missouriensis will be in flower in the upcoming weeks, and the blazing stars are only now beginning to bloom. Of course, no good day hiking comes without seed ticks, but they weren't nearly as pervasive as in other parts of the state, which is notable especially having seen direct evidence of a browse line in the woods.

I remain in awe of insect diversity in nice systems like this one. Blooming plants are covered with nectaring bees and flies, and there are so many species of true bugs that I can't even fathom learning them all. I've started with learning the insects in my yard which is full of generalist species that can manage in a highly fragmented system, but in an intact landscape of 17,000 acres managed with occasional and responsibly applied prescribed fire? I wouldn't even know where to begin to learn all of them. Botany is hard, it's really challenging, but entomology -where the subjects MOVE- is a field I would need three lifetimes to learn. It is certainly fun learning, though.

It would be interesting to collect data on high quality examples of Eminence glades to compare the different regions of the expression and then to compare to Jefferson City-Cotter glades. If this was the year 1800, it would be easier to assess true differences, but with today's highly damaged and altered systems, it's tricky to make these kinds of determinations when so few undamaged systems exist in the modern age. Regional differences are easier to see--e.g., all the of species restricted to the White River Hills versus the restricted species on the arc of Jefferson Co. glades. For example, what is behind the distribution of Echinacea simulata on Eminence glades in the southern Ozarks compared to these northern glades where this species is absent? Is it extirpated? Was it there historically? Or is there some range issue that is despite similar rock type and structure. And that's just one species. It sounds like a fun project, nonetheless, to sample glades of specific dolomites, the different igneous, limestone series and sandstones. This sounds like a project for retirement.