Saturday, May 30, 2015

House Update 5.30.15

There have actually been numerous work days between now and the last renovation post I made, but it was mostly Mark and his dad working over there.

Mark doesn't spend so much time goofing off and taking pictures documenting the progress as I do.

There is literally ONE wall left to come down, we just didn't get quite that far this week.

Otherwise, the walls are all gone and SOMEHOW, SOMEHOW, we have managed to pull out nearly every nail and every staple in every board in that house. I never thought that would be possible.

After spending a lot of time discussing options with our local fireplace store, we decided to go with a free-standing wood stove and not go back to an insert. Mainly because none of the inserts approved for mobile homes heat a large enough area. Most of them are rated only up to 1200 feet (we have 1700).

So Mark took the wall down, and we are going to see if anybody is willing to take the fireplace insert off our hands.

Ha. I think it's funny that this bed is STILL in there. We've been so busy tearing walls down it just kind of keeps getting overlooked.
We will be building a corner hearth and hanging a triangular mantle above it. I think it will be beautiful!

I was tearing the walls out in the master bath when I came across this little guy:

Blue-tailed skink, right? At least, that's what we always called them, growing up.

Actually, there are 3 species in TN that can look very similar, depending on their age and the time of year.

Yep, nature lesson time!

Okay, the 3 species that can get confused are the Common 5-lined Skink, the Southeastern 5-lined Skink, and the Broad-headed Skink.

Broad-heads can get surprisingly large - over 12 inches! So, there's no mistaking one of those (as adults, anyhow).

Males of all three species undergo a change in appearance during the breeding season. Their heads turn bright orange and swell up (some old timers still call them "red-headed scorpions" and mistakenly believe them to be venomous). Juveniles are the ones with the bright blue tails.

Juveniles and females of all three species can get confusing. But there are a few ways to tell them apart....

To rule out the Broad-headed, you want to observe the face...

Between the nostril and the eye is a row of scales known as labial scales. In Broad-heads you will count 5 in this area. The other two species have 4. So we know he isn't a Broad-head.

So how do you tell Common 5-lines from Southeasterns?

Look under the tail...

As you can see, the middle row of scales under the tail is enlarged. In Southeastern 5-lines, all rows of scales are uniform in size.

So our little specimen is the Common 5-lined!

Okay, okay back to the house....

Something else they have been working on is replacing all the light switches and a few of the outlets...

Most of the light switches either didn't work right or were broken off.

All we have left to do before the sheetrock guy can get started, is to rip out the vanities and bathtubs and get everything cleaned up.

Yeah, I have a feeling that will end up taking more time and effort than we anticipate, just like everything else we've done up until this point, but you know.

Hopefully we can knock those out on our work days next week.

In the meantime, we're making a billion other decisions - replacing doors & door frames, replacing insulation, replacing windows? Lights & light fixtures? Does the septic system work? Dunno. Oh yeah, and we have to figure out a solution to the water problem.

It seems like this could spin out of control at any time. [head throbs]

The house isn't exactly looking its best right now, but soon enough we'll start fleshing this poor sucker back out again.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Chosen One

I finally got around to evaluating Acer's 4 remaining 10-wk doelings, and picked a successor.

The poses aren't the greatest, but she has decent type - really though, none of them were all that bad.

Luckily, weight and temperament made the choice easy. At 4 pounds, 11 ounces she was the heaviest, and was also the calmest for handling.

The others weighed 4,4; 4, 2; and 4, 4.

I've desperately needed cage space, so this will really help. 

I'll be eager to watch her develop in the coming months. I'm especially interested to see if she silvers out like a Creme. She already has some silver hairs coming in.

I also weighed this guy again:

Too scrunched, I know. I'd have him lined up perfectly then he would back away as soon as I snapped the picture.
Big Boy, as I've dubbed him, is 5 lbs at nearly 10 weeks of age. He's been really difficult to pose, but he has really nice type. 

I gave up on posing and just took pictures.
I think he's so handsome and distinguished!

Now, if I was ruthless I would cull Ichigo and replace him with Big Boy.

But Ichigo is such a sweetie, I just can't bring myself to do it.

It's not like Ichigo is a slacker, anyhow. He's beefy, has decent type and the best temperament out of all my buns.

I really can't afford to keep another buck. So I should either cull one of my Creme bucks or just sell Big Boy.

So I decided to try and sell him. I've had several interested buyers already, so hopefully he will end up making somebody a nice herd sire.

If he doesn't sell (and if I can manage the cage space/feed bill), I may see how he matures. If he exceeds Ichigo in type, I may try to sell Ichigo instead.

Speaking of sales, I made my first two rabbit sales this past week (a NZ doe and a buck from Cardamom's last litter).

The transactions were really enjoyable, since both ladies were like-minded homesteading types. I'll be eager to see how my rabbits do for them, since they are my first-generation New Zealands.

We still have 6 culls to put in the freezer, and Babette will have to be culled soon, now that her babies are beginning to wean. Not looking forward to that at all, but it must be done.

Cardamom's latest litter is doing great, and I think they are the prettiest, yet.

All in all things are going well at the rabbitry, and I'm excited to see what our next breeding season holds!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Moment of Truth......

I sexed Babette's litter today (I was going to weigh them too, but my digital hanging scale was giving me the blue screen of death).

Could I have a drum roll, please........

Woo-hoo!!! The rabbit gods smile on me.  :)

Stay healthy girls! You are the future!

Wednesday's Wildflower: Golden St. John's Wort

This is one plant that most everyone has heard of, even if they've never seen it.

St. John's Wort can be found practically the world over, in one form or another. There are at least 490 species in its genus Hypericum, and they can be found in all but the lowest jungles, hottest deserts, and coldest regions at the ends of the Earth.

The most widely distributed and best known species is Hypericum perforatum, or Common St. John's Wort.

Although indigenous to Europe, it has escaped and invaded worldwide, and is now growing in the United States, Turkey, Russia, the Middle East, India and China, to name a few places.

There are 23 species of Hypericum in Tennessee, many of which are native - some even quite rare.

This is a Hypericum I found growing in the Blue Ridge mountains at around 6,000 feet in elevation. 

While today's featured plant, Golden St. John's Wort, isn't one of the rarest, it is one of the showiest!

A perennial, woody, branched shrub growing up to 40 inches tall, this guy is hard to miss - especially once those bright, sunny blooms open in early Summer!

Golden St. John's Wort, or Hypericaum frondosum, is a frequently encountered wildflower throughout the state, especially fond of the calciferous soils in cedar glades and rocky hillsides. Its range also includes much of the Southeastern US - from Texas to Florida to Indiana, as well as a few of the Northeastern states. 

The typical bloom time for Goldens is late May and early June.

For just about any species, no matter where they are found, they represent the beginning of the summer. This has always had powerful significance to humans, especially during the Dark Ages in Europe.

Their bloom coincided with the Catholic holiday the feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24th), hence their name. A flower head pinched away and crushed would leave a red stain, giving reference to John the Baptist's beheading. (The "wort" part of the name is simply an Old English word for "plant," referring especially those valued as food and medicine. )

Because of this correlation, the plant held a powerful spiritual significance. Their emergence represented the end of the long, cold winter, and the beginning of warmth and sunshine. They represented another year of life. They symbolized light overcoming darkness.

It was believed that this plant offered spiritual protection. It was nailed over doorways to keep witches away. It was brought along to exorcisms and tossed into the fire to purge the evil spirits.

Interestingly, Native Americans used St. John's Wort in a similar fashion, without European influence. The Cherokee would hang it above their doors to ward off evil. The Ojibways would throw it onto a fire to make a storm dissipate. It was even believed to divert lightning strikes.

Aside from all of its spiritual uses, Hypericum has been indispensable as medicine for virtually every culture throughout history.

The leaves and flowers are astringent, analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, nervine, resolvent, sedative, stimulant, vermifuge and vulnerary.

St. John's Wort has been used to treat virtually every affliction of the skin; including acne, wounds, ulcers, burns, cuts, bruises and nerve damage. It was even used to heal sword wounds during the Middle Ages.

The Cherokee would chew up the root, swallow a small portion and then apply the rest to a snakebite. Infants were bathed in a root tea to give them strength. The crushed plant was sniffed to treat a nosebleed. It was also used in medicinal mixtures to bring on menstruation in women and the sap of the plant was applied to sores and warts.

This plant also has antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been used to treat internal parasites, dysentery and bladder infections.

Perhaps its most notable clinical use, however, is in the treatment of depression. It was recently "discovered" as a natural antidepressant in 1997, and is still considered a safe alternative to most prescriptions. However, like any medication, it is not without its risks. It is not considered safe for pregnant women (some tribes even used it as an abortive), and it can cause photo-sensitivity. It is also known to interfere with the effects of other drugs, including other antidepressants, contraceptives and cholesterol medication.


St. John's Wort can also be used as a dye.

Yellow, gold and brown can be obtained from the leaves. Acidified flowers give a red dye.

Needless to say, Golden St. John's Wort belongs to a noble and cherished plant family that has assisted mankind throughout the ages, and that partnership continues even today.

Right now, the buds on Hypericum frondosum are ready to burst into bloom and brighten up our woods and shores. They are a reminder that the winter must always end, and summer is never too far away.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower: Prickly Pear

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Native Plants, Native Healing - Traditional Muskogee Way - Tis Mal Crow

Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey

Wildflowers of Tennessee  - Jack B. Carman

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Raising Wild Silkmoths: Pt. 1

One of my hobbies as a park Naturalist has been capturing and raising various moth species.

Moths in the Giant Silkmoth family are easy to spot, and if you happen to find a female during the daylight hours, she has likely already been bred and is ready to lay her eggs. All you have to do is put her into a paper bag to collect them!

But how do you tell male from female?

Males have much larger antennae, for one thing. They use them to detect pheromones the females release - which is how they find each other in the darkness.

Notice how much fuller the male's antennae are when compared to the female's:

Females are usually larger than the males, with a much larger abdomen (full of eggs!).

Some species are sexually dimorphic - meaning males and females are different colors. Probably the most strongly sexually dimorphic species occuring around here is the Io silkmoth.

These photos are not to scale, by the way - the female is noticeably larger than the male.
Both have the distinctive large eyespots on their hindwings, but males are bright yellow and the females are reddish brown.

It will be awhile before many of these species start making an appearance, but you can look for them around porches, tennis courts or anywhere there are bright lights.

Our Regional Interpretive Specialist usually makes the rounds with captive raised Cecropia Moth Caterpillers every summer.

They make a great educational tool for the Seasonal Rangers, and the adult moths get released into all the state parks (Cecropias have become less common in recent years).

Last summer's Cecropias over-wintered in their cocoons on our front porch, and have been emerging one or two at a time for the last several weeks.

It just so happens that yesterday a male and female emerged at the same time!

So I decided I would go ahead and collect eggs from her so this summer's Seasonal Ranger would have some caterpillars to program with.

The process is quite simple.

I just tossed the couple into a paper bag, where they soon decided their intimate relations were over.

I went ahead and released the male.

Hopefully he was able to find another Cecropia girlfriend out there before his life ended.

Many moth species spend a very short amount of time as adults. In fact, a great majority of them don't even have mouthparts since they don't eat anything. They rely on the food stores they accrued during their life as a larva.

Within the space of a week, they emerge, mate, lay eggs and die.

So I left the female closed up in the paper bag overnight, and this morning found that she had laid her eggs.

I went ahead and released her, but having fulfilled her one and only purpose, she likely perished shortly thereafter.

Now it is time to collect the eggs.

I simply tear open the bag and cut out the areas where the eggs are attached.

They are stuck on there pretty good, so this way you don't risk damaging them by trying to pry them away.

Then I just take the leaflets and close them up in a plastic bag.

The bag will help protect them from predators and the elements, while also insuring they don't all wander off when they hatch.

The bag will sit in a protected spot on my porch until they hatch, which will be in 10-14 days.

Stay tuned for what comes next!

In the meantime, I'll show you a few more giant silkmoth species you may encounter.

The Luna is probably the most recognizable:

Here is the male Io again, only without his wings spread.

By the way, before you decide to raise some Ios, be aware that the caterpillars sting.

They are literally a pain to raise. I did it once, but ended up releasing them after a few weeks because I was tired of getting stung.

The sensation is just like stinging nettle, only it lasts longer. They have a bad habit of dropping from their twigs when you move them around, which is necessary when changing out their food. Not only do you have to pick them up somehow, but I found out the hard way that those stinging hairs can penetrate denim.

Another show-stopper is the Royal Walnut moth:

Not only are they a gorgeous moth, but their caterpillars are the largest of any species in North America. They are so impressive they have their own name: the Hickory Horned Devil...

Citheronia regalis - HickoryHornedDevil-Simons.jpg
Despite their menacing appearance, they are harmless. The horns are all for show.

If you decide to try and raise some wild caterpillars, it's really important you identify your species! That will determine what type of plant you feed them.

Most moth caterpillars feed on trees and shrubs.

One good resource for identification and information on life history is the Butterflies and Moths of North America website.

We'll pick back up in a couple of weeks when my Cecropia eggs hatch, and then talk about how to raise the little guys! See you then!

Another male Luna moth