Caterpillars and Muscadines

cat1Several of us found this beautiful caterpillar strolling across “The Barn” parking area on Saturday, 9/13,at the Oconee Foray. I finally got around to trying to determine the species when I had lunch with my friend Joe Fink day before yesterday. I’ve known Joe since 1970 when we took an entomology class together at UT. We are both retired now, but along the way Joe had enough entomology credits to have a major in it if he cat2wanted, and I took four entomology classes along my journey. We both used extensive insect collections in our teaching. Surely, I thought, we’ll figure this one out – being that it is so distinctive. After going over images in several large web sites and trying to key it out, I realized I was stuck, so I sent the photographs in to Next day I had the answer: A moth Heterocampa umbrata, White-blotched heterocampa.    As it turns out, the normal caterpillar color is green, but right before pupation it changes color and markings significantly. I should have thought of this. Why else would it be traveling in Fall rather than feeding on the oaks, its favorite food?

jellyMuscadines. We went to South Alabama last weekend, and we picked abut 15 pounds of muscadines (actually scuppernongs). I was able to extract about a gallon of juice, and this morning Ellen and I made 16 jars of jelly. It is delicious too ! I had two muscadine jelly and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch Yummy. There is a lot of bounty in the fall.

We finally got rain – 1 1/2 inches on Tuesday. Should be some mushrooms finally.

Dry, But Still . . . ?

It’s official now (Oct 1, 2014); September 2014 was the driest month in recorded history at the Knoxville weather station (airport) with a total of only 0.19 inches of rain. Still, last week I posted on finding oysters. Yesterday I saw a few more that were probably last chicken093014week’s also, but surprisingly I found a chicken of the woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, that weighed 1 1/2 lbs. I thought about leaving it a day because it was so fresh, but underneath I could see insects just starting to find it. It was growing on a very punky stump remnant that had left a hole in the ground which may have served as a catchment, much like a cistern, and then the punky stump sequestered moisture like a sponge. Who knows, but I was certainly surprised.

About an hour after harvesting this one, I ran into a fellow who had just picked what looked like a 4-5 lbs chicken, Laetiporus cincinnatus, from someone’s yard. So, both species of chicken were found in the middle of a severe rain deficit, the same day. Nighttime temps have been holding in the 60′s and highs low 80′s. Go figure.

Rain is predicted for Friday, 1/2″ to 1.0″. Then lows will drop into high 40′s with highs around 70 for several days. There should be some mushroom fruiting simply because of the drastic change. Sexual reproduction, in natural sytems, is generally in response to change in external conditions, while asexual reproduction occurs in the presence of optimal conditions. So, be on the lookout here in the Valley. We’ll see happens next week.

Oysters – Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em

Oyster logI have often been asked by folks, “How fast does a mushroom grow?”. At the risk of sounding sarcastic I usually reply, “I don’ know, because my philosophy is Never Leave a Man Behind !” That’s pretty much true, in that I harvest anything big enough to be seen, with a few exceptions that prove the rule. The few times that I have marked a mushroom and come back to see its growth was when the work was easy. In other words, the subject was very, very close – like my back yard or a morel in a friend’s apple orchard..The last few days were just such a time.

After driving a long way for my first Hen of the Woods (my last post) on Friday, I thought a little “desert run” down a local trail near the house might be in order. It had been over a week since any rain had fallen here, so my expectations were low. After piddling around, I headed back toward my truck. I had skipped checking a large fallen tree just in the woods at the start of the trail. “Too dry for oysters,” I had thought. But then, this is a tree that has given up oysters regularly over the past two years in an unpredictable fashion. I could see the tree from the trail, but would have to get closer to see if oysters were present because there was substantial “crust fungus” on part of it. So I did – get closer.

Oyster1What I found was numerous patches of “pinhead” oysters up to nickel sized, with a few a bit larger. Because it was easy to get to, I thought, “What the heck. Take a picture and come back tomorrow.”



Oyster2I did that and you can see from the pictures that considerable growth had occurred. I picked 3 lbs on Saturday and left all the small ones. That’s my knife for scale. Note, also, all the gaps are filled in.



Oyster3I returned the following day, Sunday, and all the tiny ones were nice eating size, but not mature enough for our orange-headed fungus beetles to have invaded them. I picked another 3 1/2 lbs.

That’s the best quality oysters I have ever harvested. Yummmm-eeee !!!

Bottom line: If you see small oysters, don’t wait more than a day, but it can get substantial growth in one day, even if the woods are dry. They will be big enough for the pan, but not old enough to be slimy or beetle filled. Of course, this tale is episodic and not a controlled experiment. “All ‘shroomers walk in single file. At least the one I saw did.”

POST SCRIPT: I did go back once more, Sunday, which made 3 days from first discovery. The few small ones I had left on Saturday had not grown at all, and had, in fact, dried out. Still, by being patient I got about 7 pounds of the most beautiful oysters I believe I have ever foraged.