Muscadine summer

Ripe muscadines lying on the road are a sure sign of late summer. They are ubiquitous on the mountain. The vines are thick in the woods and on the ground along our driveway, but the most ripe grapes I have seen lately are across the road from the driveway. They grow in small groups but not in bunches like most commercially-raised grapes.

These are nearly ripe. These turn almost black at the peak of ripeness. Other varieties range from lighter red to green when ripe.

Ripe muscadines fall readily off the vine.

I think I posted some time ago about cutting some trees in the woods at our old house and not being able to get the trees to fall because their tops were laced together by muscadine vines. The vines produce fruit on new growth, so they tend to grow vigorously. I have read on one site that the original European settlers in the Southeast found old muscadine vines a foot in diameter. I haven’t seen any that thick, but vines a few inches in diameter are not uncommon.

Muscadines are native to the American South. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers Web site, they can be grown in the warmer grape-growing regions of California, Oregon and Washington, but their true home and the place they do the best is in the warm, humid, long summers of the American Southeast.

Grapes are apparently toxic to dogs, but Sam has been a little too quick for me on a couple of occasions and has scarfed down a grape or two. No ill effects so far, but I do need to keep him away.

Muscadines have a strong, musky but quite pleasant taste. The skins are thick and tough and the seeds are almost inextricable from the pulp. One Georgia gardening expert suggests putting a grape in the mouth, biting into the skin, sucking the juice, and then spitting the skin and pulp out. This, like watermelon eating, is best done outdoors.

Rain watch

I have mentioned before that a fair number of trees in the woods around here died between last summer and this spring. The forest doesn’t look healthy. A lot of trees of all species on the mountain either never came back in the spring or barely made it out of the winter alive. Even the trees that seem less affected by the heat and drought of last summer don’t seem to have leafed out as much as in a normal year, at least to my uneducated eye.

Some trees are trying. A few pines whose needles all turned brown have come back in part. Some of the trees whose limbs never leafed out have sprouted tight bunches of leaves along their trunks. I suspect many of them will never fully recover and will eventually die, especially if we have another summer like 2016.

One of the hardest hit of species is the dogwood. As far as I could tell earlier this spring, we had only one or two dogwoods that seemed to have survived in reasonably good condition. This is one that grew just inside the woods next to our driveway.

Some vines have grown up into the crown, which makes it look like it still has leaves, but the only leaves on this tree are dead. But this is what I noticed at the base of the tree on Wednesday.

It’s coming back from the roots. It looks pretty good at this point.

Here’s a maple that lost about half of its multiple trunks.

And here’s its base.

I don’t know whether the dogwoods or maples will manage to survive, despite these signs of their struggle to live.

This die-off may be a normal cycle in the northwestern Georgia forest, but I worry.

I also worry about our front yard. I finally got the zoysia seed sown. I filled the ruts and depressions as well as I could, then spread about two inches of rich topsoil. Then I raked it as level as I could, which was not very level. Then I rolled it. Every place I stepped ended up with a deep footprint. I could and probably should have tried harder to get the lawn smooth, but I was racing what I thought was a nice downpour that never materialized.

Now all we have to do is make sure the seed doesn’t get too dry. I have watered lightly – very lightly – twice so far. Our well doesn’t produce at a very high rate, so I am being conservative when I water. I am sprinkling about a third of the lawn at a time, then waiting a few hours before doing the next third. Here you can see the middle third is slightly darker than the ground on either side, a result of watering just a short while before I took the picture.

As I write this on Wednesday afternoon, there is a wide area of rain heading from the southwest up towards us. Based on our history here, I won’t be surprised if we get little or nothing from this system.

Spring walk

The woods on the mountain are beautiful in the spring. I like the brilliant, yellowish-green of the new leaves. They are especially beautiful against a deep blue sky.

This was down near the bottom of the mountain. Even with the few hundred feet difference in elevation from the top of the mountain, the trees at the bottom are deeper into spring.

One thing I noticed on my dog walk Sunday morning was that a few trees seem not to have recovered from the drought of last summer. This one seems to have lost a major branch.

Some of the upper branches on this tree are leafing out.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I was afraid some of the dogwoods on the mountain had died from what I presume was drought stress. Their leaves had turned brown on the trees, and the dogwoods did not shed those leaves as usual. Most of the dogwoods are now blooming or leafing out, but I am noticing a few that remain brown. The dogwoods down off the mountain seem to be in pretty good shape. I see quite a few in the woods along Technology Parkway as we drive into town. I see very few blooming dogwoods higher on the mountain. This is one of the few. It’s near the corner of our property.

I identified several dogwoods near the house last summer. I can’t find any of them that show any signs of life now.

I have also mentioned that some of the pines on the mountain, including quite a few on our property, seemed to be dying. Most of those are showing no sign of life, but a few seem to be sprouting new needles. The one that seems most likely to survive is a loblolly. The shortleaf pines don’t seem to be recovering. Maybe later in the spring they will.

I am sad to have to report that it looks like the little longleaf pine I planted at our old house seems to have died. All the needles have turned brown. I suppose it’s possible it could recover, but it doesn’t look good. It was just reaching the bottlebrush stages

The full moon will be April 11. (Since this will be the first full moon of spring, next Sunday will be Easter.) It seemed pretty full Sunday as it rose. I thought it looked nice through the bare limbs of our pet maple.

This was a time exposure with my Olympus mounted on a tripod. The exposure was long enough that the floodlights on the front of the house illuminated the tree. This is more like what my eye saw.

I like both images, but I prefer the darker silhouette. Unfortunately, when I zoomed out with the camera on AUTO, the camera extended the exposure enough that the maple was no longer just a black silhouette.

Although the maple looks like it’s also dead, it has the red tips that show first on maples.

Daffodils and an oak

It has been a very warm beginning to the new year. We have used our wood stove very little so far. The low Saturday night was 61 up here on the mountain, higher than the average high temperature for that day, and higher than any average high in February until the very end of the month.

Even in a normal month, the earliest daffodils begin blooming towards the end of the month, or at latest the beginning of March, but even so, I was a little surprised to see those nodding yellow heads peeking through the trees down at the bottom of the mountain Saturday morning.

This is at our turn-around point. This area is barely visible from the road. There is a driveway here leading to what looks like a picnic shelter. There is a gate a few dozen feet from the road; I felt comfortable walking up to the gate, but not beyond it. I was using my iPhone, as usual, so the daffodils in the distance are not so easy to see. There is a bunch just to the left of the little cedar about a quarter of the way from left to right in this picture, and a line of daffodils along the driveway.

The oak is remarkable. It’s the largest I have seen anywhere on Lavender Mountain. It’s hard to get the scale in this image, but it is certainly more than six feet in diameter. I’m not sure of the specific type. I don’t think chestnut oaks, which are the most numerous on the mountain, get this big. Based on what I could find about record sizes for chestnut oaks, this one might be a contender. But it might not be a chestnut oak. The shape of the trunk doesn’t really look like the chestnut oaks I’m familiar with. It could even be something else, like a walnut for all I know.

I suspect that this location is the site of an old home, perhaps one of the earliest in the Texas Valley area. It is gone now, but the daffodils are a sure indication that a residence was once here. I imagine that the oak is also a remnant of the old home site.

When I lived in Alabama, my house was in Stewart Hollow. My yard had a line of daffodils across the open area of the yard. I suspect that those daffodils once lined a driveway or walk way long, long ago. There was no sign of a residence other than my own, which was fairly new. I imagine that there was once a farm house located somewhere nearby.

I would love to explore this area, but I won’t, not with the no trespassing signs. In my younger days I might wander through the woods and come upon the site from the back rather than the front. Without signs facing into the woods, I would probably have considered it fair game. But I don’t wander the woods any more, so I probably won’t get to see this area up close.

Peach State

Once upon a time, long, long ago, my parents took me and my brother to a peach orchard. I don’t remember where it was, only that it was not far from home. I do remember  the heat of an open-sided processing shed on a sunny day, and I remember biting into a peach. I remember the sticky juice that ran down my chin and over my hand, the itchy peach fuzz, and, most of all, the incredibly peachy sweetness of a ripe peach just plucked from the tree.

That was back in the time when Georgia was known as the Peach State. Today Georgia is third in peach production in the US, behind California (far, far behind), and not all that far behind South Carolina. There are no peach orchards in Floyd County, or in any of the neighboring counties. The closest orchard that offers peaches directly to the public is about a two hour drive on the other side of Atlanta. There are more roadside (or interstate-side) stands or stores down in south Georgia, below the fall line, but those are even further away from us.

That leaves grocery stores as our only practical source of peaches, or what passes for peaches today in the average grocery store in the Peach State. We have tried to eat peaches from Walmart, the closest grocery store to us. They look incredibly realistic, but they are as hard as baseballs, and taste about like what I imagine a baseball might taste like. We tried putting these peach-like objects into a paper bag to let them ripen, with results that ranged from unacceptable to somewhat decent. They were nothing at all like the peach from my past, and that’s not just because of rose-tinted memories of my childhood.

I suspect that peaches are harvested way before they ripen so they can be shipped to warehouses and then to grocery stores without bruising or spoiling. So they end up looking good, but with no taste.

Several years ago when a large tract of property at the end of Lavender Trail was being auctioned I met the man who subdivided and sold the lots where we now live. He said that there was once an orchard up here on the mountain. At that time I used to take our last doberman Zeus on long walks through the woods. I found a number of old, overgrown roads, but no sign of an orchard.

A few weeks ago I found this peach tree at one end of Lavender Trail.


I doubt that this peach tree has anything to do with the mythical Lavender Mountain peach orchard. It’s probably the accidental offspring of a peach that was eaten nearby. I had been up to this turnaround many, many times but had never noticed this tree. It was around 10 feet tall.

The tree held about two dozen hard, green peaches, a little larger than ping-pong balls. I went home planning to check back on this tree and maybe, just maybe, get a decent, if small, peach. I didn’t hold out much hope, though. This turnaround, like the one at the other end of Lavender Trail, is frequented by tourists and other ne’er-do-wells (one of which might be the source of the tree itself).

I went back a couple of weeks later. The peaches were closer to ripe, but only about half of them remained. When I went back a week or so after that, they were all gone.