The Organic Garden

August 1, 2012


The garden has been very productive this summer.  Vicki has canned over 200 quarts of veggies.   We are in the process of now starting our planting of the fall crops and cover crops.  It has been more successful than we thought.  The manure and coffee grounds really made a big difference in productivity and moisture retention.

We are now preparing another section for our crop rotation.  I will post more information on that later.  It will provide information on how we discovered to process to kill bermuda grass.


Our mushroom logs are coming along fine.  We can see the growth of the mycelium in the logs and are excited with the opportunity of harvesting some in the fall.






Hunting in the rain with dad

February 8, 2012

In the early 1970’s I gave my dad a black powder “Hawken” kit for Christmas.  After he finished building his new rifle we spent many afternoons target shooting.  I’d been shooting competitively for several years with a “primitive” club.  Primitive meaning, shooting with round ball and a flintlock rifle with open sights.  Deer populations in the ’70’s were very small and non-existent in some areas that now have problems with over populations. However, I had been lucky enough to harvest several nice bucks.  With his new rifle and proficiency with hitting the target, dad decided he was ready to tackle deer hunting with a muzzleloader.

We planned the hunt for a weekend at Cheatham Game Reserve (a managed wildlife area in the state).  The hunt was a three-day event for muzzleloaders only and the only chance to hunt the reserve without being drawn on a quota hunt.  Unlike today, there were few blackpowder enthusiast hunting in the early 70’s.  We set up our camp on Thursday evening and double checked all of our gear.  We were awakened at 4:00 am by thunder and a downpour.  Dad shined his flashlight in my face and said, “can I hunt with this thing in the rain?”   I told him he could but we needed to take some precautions.  After loading his rife and waxing the cap on the nipple, I told him to make sure he kept it under his poncho and not let rain down the barrel.

We loaded the jeep up and headed out after breakfast.  When we got to the trail head to our stands I decided to put him on my best spot.  I had killed a nice deer on this stand during the muzzleloader season last year and again this year during the archery season.  The woods were very dark at 5:30 am with no moon and the heavy rain, but I did have the trail marked.  The problem was telling dad were the ground blind was built.  I had moved a considerable amount of brush up near a very large oak that the deer were feeding around.  But I explained it the best I could.  I told him to walk beside the trail that ran the ridge until he came to a very large oak and about 10 yards to the right was the stand.  I had equipped dad with a small folding stool to sit on and as he headed into the woods I did notice his flashlight was getting dim.  Now, dad grew up in the mountains during the Great Depression and survived WWII, so I felt comfortable letting him into the dark woods with a dim flashlight.

The agreement was if we had not killed a deer by noon we would come out together and have lunch and compare notes.  When 12:00 came I headed for the Jeep.  There sat dad asleep.  When I got in he raise up and asked if I got one and I told him I hadn’t seen anything.  I ask him and …. then the story began!

He said, “I got to the tree but couldn’t remember which side of the tree you told me to sit and it was raining so hard I didn’t even know where the trail was.  The rain was coming down so hard I just sat down and made sure the gun was under the poncho and ducked my head and waited for the rain to stop.  About daylight I heard something and as I looked up I was sitting smack dab in the middle of the trail and there was a deer running down the trail…. straight at me…. I thought he was going to run over me.  When I tried to get the stupid gun out from under the poncho it got hung on something… I looked up again about this time and the deer was in a full slide trying not to run over me.  He hit the ground about 3 ft in front of me and if I had had a baseball bat instead of that stupid gun, I would have killed me a deer.  As it was he got up and bounded off back in the direction he came.  I got up and came out to the jeep and took a nap.”

We hunted the rest of the weekend but didn’t see another deer.  Dad and I had many hunting trips together but I’ll never forget dad’s first muzzleloader hunt in the rain.

The Organic Farm

February 2, 2012

Well, we bought a farm last year and have spent a lot of days working on cleaning it up and preparing the ground for this year.  We’ve now hauled about 9 loads of horse manure and probably a ton of coffee grounds to till into the soil…. plus loads of leaves, sawdust and pine needles.  Our goal is to establish a self-sustained organic farm complete with orchard (planted), garden, animals (goats and chickens primarily) and interesting crops (flowers, medicinal herbs and mushrooms).

Progress has been good.  We’ve cleared a considerable amount of the land from years of neglect.  We tilled ground and planted perennial crops like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, fig trees and asparagus.  We battled Bermuda grass and found a way to defeat it.  It is a lot of work but we have a way of destroying it and doing it without chemicals.  We’ve fenced a considerable amount of the farm.

ImageThis is a picture of the front property line after we had cleaned it up and mowed the weeds and grass.  In the background you see Vicki in the asparagus ditch putting in the composted horse manure.


Here is a look at the same field closer up after the dead trees have been removed, fences built and the ground amended with horse manure and coffee grounds.  The green grass is the rye grass cover crop we planted last fall.  All of this will be tilled into the soil this month (February) and readied for our first crop of potatoes.  You will notice a square piece of ground that was a test garden last year.  We had soil test done but wanted to plant some vegetables to see if the ground had any problem diseases or bug populations detrimental to tomatoes, squash or beans.   Everything checked out fine.

mushroom logsWe finished our mushroom logs and they look really great.  We will leave them stacked this way for some time and occasionally re-stack them to make sure they get an equal amount of moisture.

The process to make the logs is very simple.  You choose good hardwood logs with diameters of 4 to 6 inches and cut into 3 foot lengths.  Then you wait a couple of weeks for the logs to rest.  They have a natural defense mechanism that will kill the fungus spores if you inoculate them to soon.   Now it is time to drill your 5/16 inch holes every 6 inches around the log.    You skip over about 2 to 3 inches and stagger your holes and start a new run every 6 inches.  In a 6 inch by 3 foot log there are approximately 50 holes.

Once all the holes are drilled, they go to the next operation… putting in the plugs.  It is necessary to drive the plugs into the hole with a hammer and then countersink them below the bark line (approximately 1/4 inch deep).

inserting the inoculated pegs

Now it is time to wax the holes.  This requires melted cheese wax and a small dobber to cover the pegged hole to keep out any contaminates.

In about 9 months we will harvest our first batch of Shiitake mushrooms.  Each log should product between a pound to a pound and a half of fresh mushrooms a year for the next 4 to 5 years.   In the next 5 years we should harvest about 450 lbs of fresh mushrooms from our efforts.

If you have any questions about specifics on the mushrooms or the farm just leave me a note.

See you later, I need to pick up some coffee grounds from Starbucks.

A funny thing happened while hunting

August 26, 2011

Dad and I deer hunted together at least 2 or 3 times every year for many, many years.   One of those trips (about 1974) took us to a farm that had some large bucks.  I had bought dad a German Mauser and he had sporterized it.  He had a 3 by 9 variable scope mounted and had it sighted in.   At the target range it was shooting 1 inch groups at 100 yards using handloaded ammunition.

Having harvested several deer from the farm over the years and early scouting gave me a good idea of where the deer were traveling in the mornings.   During archery season I had seen this one nice buck in the 140 range which was an unusually large rack for the 1970’s in Tennessee.   I could never get a good bow shot because he was always just out of range for my 50 lb recurve.

Now was the opportunity….. dad had a rifle that could reach out and take him.  So, the morning of the hunt we head out very early to get on our stands and be ready for the big buck.   Dad’s stand was a large downed oak tree.  The tree had been blown down by high winds in the spring and made an excellent stand.  You could walk up the tree and have a seat about 12 feet off of the ground.   I had built a platform and put a safety fence around just in case someone fell asleep on the stand.  (This was before the belted harness restraints available now.)

When we got to the stand that morning dad commented on what a great stand it was and that it would be his first tree stand.  Dad always hunted on the ground.  I waited until he had walked up the downed tree and settled on the stool I had placed on the platform and I proceeded around the field and over another hill and got into my stand about 200 yards away from dad but close enough to hear him if he need me.

Just as the sun broke over the horizon, I heard dad’s rifle go off.  A short pause and Bang…. Bang…. Bang…. Bang.  I’m thinking he fell out of the tree and is hurt.  But our signal is just three shots… he has emptied the clip!   Now what?  A few seconds go by as I debate what to do next… Bang…. Bang…. then silence.  No more shots.   So I decide to wait for a while and see if a deer comes over the hill or dad calls out to me.  Not a sound and no deer.   So I wait about 30 minutes figuring if he does have a deer down that is enough time to let it lay.

I pack up my gear, climb down from my stand and head back to dad’s stand.  When I get there.. no dad.  I look around for any sign of trouble or problems but I see none.  I climb the stand and there is brass all over the platform.   I pick it up thinking, “dad never leaves brass, hum?”   Now what?   I wait in his stand for another 30 minutes thinking maybe the deer ran another direction and he is looking for it and will come back this way to get me.   No dad.  Now what?   Check the car!

I climb down and head for the car.   When I get there, there is a note under the windshield wiper and it says, “hitched a ride home, good luck, Dad.”   I hunt the remainder of the day, but with all of the walking around I’m sure there is enough scent to scare off a herd of deer.

When I get home and ask dad what happened, the story went like this:  “Soon after I got settled in the stand for some reason I dropped the rifle out of the stand and it hit several limbs on its way to the ground.  I climbed down and got the rifle and checked it out and it appeared to be OK.   At sun up a very large buck came walking down the fence row in the field about 60 yards from me.  I put the crosshairs on him and fired.  The buck just looked at me.  I fired again but this time he jumped!  I fired again and he jumped again!  This time I see dirt fly under him, so I aim higher and fire.   He jumps.  I reload and fire he jumps.  I load fire and he jumps and now I’m out of shells.  I stand up and start climbing down the tree and he turns and walks…. slowly back the direction he came.   I got to the car, put my gun in the trunk and hitch a ride home.”

I asked dad if he was frustrated about the hunt and he said no, but “I never plan to give another deer dancing lessons!”

Happy hunting!

Two lost in the Grayson Highlands

August 7, 2011

Over the years I have had the luck of being in places to find lost people.   Having spent many days, weeks and months backpacking in the mountains one cannot help but walk upon someone who has followed the wrong path.   A couple of weeks ago while backpacking with some of my family in the Grayson Highlands of Virginia on the AT such an event occurred.

A mother and daughter walked into our camp and asked if this trail (the AT next to the Old Orchard Shelter) was close to Massie Gap.  It was not.  It was at best, depending on which trail you took, 9 miles away.  It was evening and they had been walking since early morning.  A wrong turn somewhere near Mount Rodgers had brought them to our camp site.

The Grayson Highland and the Mount Rodgers area have many crossing trails, foot paths and horse trails. Without some knowledge of the area or a map it would be easy to get lost and lost they were.

I’m sure they would have eventually found their way back to Massie Gap and the parking lot at the entrance of the Mount Rodgers Park area, but it would have been very late or early the next morning.

In every case of lost hikers I have come across over the last 40+ years there are some common errors.  First they have no map.  No compass.  No water and no food.   In many cases they do not have adequate clothing or emergency shelter if caught out overnight.

The mother and daughter that walked into our camp had left on a day hike in near 90 degree weather with a liter of water between them and a few snacks.    No outer clothing and only shorts and short-sleeved shirts.   That night the temperature was in the 50’s.

The next time you go on a short hike in the outdoors take a day pack with extra water, extra food, clothing for inclement weather, a map of the area, a compass (learn how to use one first), and some type of signaling device (a small whistle will work).   Also, let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.   Oh, and don’t expect your cell phone to work in a remote area.

I was able to hike out to my car with the two nice ladies and give them a ride back to their car.  It was only a 54 mile round trip.

So take time to do it right….. they had hiked the trail before and thought they knew the way.   Don’t take the chance.  Be prepared.

Happy Trails!


Pair of Skinning Knives

January 10, 2011

Here are two knives I made from files just before Christmas for a friend.   The deer antler handles are made from the same rack.

I’ve been asked how I temper the knife blades.   I know there are many different steels available for knife making that make excellent blades but I like the file.   The reason, is the hardness.   I use my blades for many different jobs and don’t like to sharpen them frequently.   I have a file blade skinner that field dressed 8 deer in one season and did not need sharpening.  Now, there are some drawbacks from having a hard blade and number one on that list is it will not bend but break.  But a knife is not a pry bar or a screwdriver.

To harden my blade after hammering it to the final shape I place the hot blade in warm ashes until it is cool.  I then do my file work to clean up the back and sharpen the edge and point.   I then heat the knife to a dull red.  (One note here, I do not work my metal in direct light.  I like to work under my shed roof with an overcast day.  If it is a clear day, I hang a drop-cloth up to shade my work area.)   I now quench the knife in an oil bath.  I quench the blade edge first and then the back.  No mater how fast you are, what hits the oil first is the hardest.   I’ll check the blade with a file to see if the areas that are suppose to be hard are hard.   I polish the blade with emery cloth until it is in the white.  If the blade checks out, I now heat a large piece of metal  (former rail plate from the railroad)  to a red heat and set it out of the forge on a couple of fire bricks.   I place the back of the cold blade on the hot surface.  I need to move the blade because of the shape of the back and I don’t want any one area getting more heat than any other.   I now watch the heat rise in the blade.   I wait until I see a straw color on the blade edge and then I quench the blade, edge first, in water.  This will give me a variable hardness in the blade and also make the blade less likely to break under stress.   What I have now is a blade with a very hard edge and a soft back.

If I’ve done everything right, it will hold a very sharp edge for a long time.

A close look at the blade you can see that is was once a file.

Have a good day hammering!

Bear Hunt

January 6, 2011

Brian in the woods listening to the dogs run

The trip to the Cherokee National Forest was uneventful, which is the way I like it.  We waited until all of the traffic in Nashville had died down during the morning rush hours and then headed east.   It took about four hours to reach Tellico Plains, TN just outside of the CNF. When we got on the forest service road we stopped at the Check-In Station and met with the game warden and asked his advice on still-hunting the next two days and he was very generous with his recommendations.  We were glad to know that our pre-planning was “right on” with is suggestions.  We had done our homework well.   We then drove about a mile to our camp ground and started setting up camp.


We had selected the Spivey Primitive Camp site for our home for two nights.  “Primitive” meaning there is no electricity or running water.  However, there was a small stream beside our campsite that provided all of our water needs.  As we were setting up camp and getting ready for our dinner meal the first sprinkles of rain started but didn’t amount to much.  But then it turned cold.  We built a nice campfire and waited until it was late enough for bed time.  We spent most of the time talking about other past hunting trips and some of them were with my dad and a brother that are now gone (see Last fishing trip with Little Brother on this blog).  It was a great day and just being in the woods was a true blessing.

At first light we were finished with a hot breakfast and in came the hunters and their dogs.  We had evidently selected the spots where some of the dogs were released.   We were on the trail up the mountain to a gap when we heard wild boar off to our right in a laurel thicket.  A couple of guys had taken a trial parallel to ours when we left camp and we noticed that they made a considerable amount of noise in the woods.   The hogs had left the bottom between us and crossed the trail in front of us and headed over the mountain.   We were just a few second late getting there.   We could hear the pigs grunting as they were going up the mountain but were never able to get a visual.  The rest of the morning was spent still-hunting (three steps, stop, wait, three steps, stop, wait, etc) the trial up the mountain listening to dogs as they run the bear or hogs (we didn’t know which).

When we came out of the mountains at lunch we had a dog with us.  She was a young Plott hound that had been running all morning.  We met the owner when we got to camp.  He was there to pick up the dog and take her home for some rest and food.   I need to tell you about the dogs.  The hunters have two tracking methods they use with the dogs.  First each dog is wearing a radio tracking collar.    Each dog owner has a directional antenna they point at the sound of the dogs and this tells them if it is one of their dogs and also gives them an idea of where their dog is located.  Second the dog wears a GPS collar.  If they are getting a good satellite signal they know the exact spot their dog or dogs are located.   It appeared to me that each dog handler had three dogs running most of the time.   The dog that followed us out of the woods at noon had, according to the GPS device, travelled 21 miles that morning.  That’s a lot of running.

After lunch it started raining but we did get to get in some hunting that evening.  The owner of the dog came by the camp and told us where we needed to be the next morning because they were putting their dogs out a certain spot on another mountain and if they jumped anything there would be a 50/50 chance they would pass through the gap where we were.  Then the snow started.   I was light but it was snow.

Sunday morning snow

The next morning when we got up we had a good dusting of snow and we decided to  skip breakfast because we needed to get up on the mountain as soon as possible and we didn’t know how deep the snow would be a couple of thousand feet higher up the mountain (we did carry snacks in our packs).   We had just reached the gap when we heard the dogs coming.  Three different packs came through the gap but never a bear or wild boar was in front of them.   They did strike a trail at about 10 am but they went around the backside of the mountain we were on.  By this time the snow had picked up and was coming down very heavy and we needed to leave as soon after lunch as we could.  As we started our hike down the mountain (about 1,200 feet) the snow cover started to thin out.   When we got back to camp there was our friend we had made the day before and he invited us back next year to hunt with their party.   Considering we were not “locals” this was a very high honor to be asked to hunt with them on the Party Hunt in December.   A “Party Hunt” is a group of 75 hunters that are drawn to hunt an entire section of the management area.  Each section is several hundred squar miles.  It is a way of limiting the number of hunters in an area and still provide hunting opportunities.

Did we get a bear or boar.. no.  With probably several hundred people hunting that weekend only two bear and 7 hogs were harvested.   The ranger told us that the bears had a great mast crop this year and with the cold snap had gone to den early. We will be back next year.

nice waterfall we passed during our hunt

The area we were hunting is very beautiful.  We were camped next to the Tellico River (an excellent trout stream).  Brian and I both said we need to come back in the summer and just camp, hike and fish this area.   If you get a chance visit the Cherokee National Forest out of Tellico Plains, TN if you get a chance.  It is just as beautiful and the Great Smokies and doesn’t have the crowds.

Happy Trails!

Black Bear Hunt Preparations

November 18, 2010

Ready for bear!

My son Brian and I have plans to hunt black bear in the mountains of east Tennessee the 3rd through the 5th of December.   The bear population has exploded in the area and bears are become more and more aggressive outside of the wildlife reserves.   With excellent mast crops over the last few years and the reduced pressures of hunters the numbers have increased significantly.   More and more hunters are filling their tags but the total number of hunters is still declining.   Fewer and fewer younger adults are not pursuing the hunting sports.  (More on this at a later posting.)

We have spent time reloading amo and practicing on the range to make sure our guns are sighted in.   Also, spending time walking some miles to get legs and lungs in better shape for the climbs in the mountains.  We are planning on hunting the southern part of the Cherokee National Forest south of the Smokies.   Our hunt will be a challenge because of the lateness of the season and we will be still hunting in areas that have been hunted over by dogs.   We have spent a considerable amount of time looking over topo maps of the area and making what we hope are the right choices of where to hunt.   There is a good bear population in the area but the kill ratio is very small.  Black bear are late evening and early morning feeders and a significant number have already went to den for the winter.

Our plan is to sill hunt the oak forest ridges overlooking water sources.   The black bear is in an “eat all you can eat” mode now to pack away fat for the long winter nap and needs to visit a water source frequently.

A plus for this hunt is there is a no limit on wild boar.   The wild boar in this are have a lot of Russian boar genetics.   The wild hog is a non-native specie and is causing considerable problems with the native flora nad fauna.   A hog matures in less than a year and can have up to 3 litters a year.  The average weight of the boar taken in the area is about 150 lbs.

So, the prep goes on.   I will keep you posted on the results of the hunt.

Happy Trails.

Stalking Turkey

October 29, 2010

Stalking Turkey (Oconostota)

I’ve done several eastern woodland Indian portraits in watercolor (Attakullakulla, Dragging Canoe and others).  This is one that I just finished and put in the gallery.  I had trouble making a good photo.  The glass was giving too much reflection.

Oconostota may have been a son of Moytoy of Tellico, and was born around 1704, one of eleven children. The identity of Oconostota’s first wife is a mystery, although she was of the Paint Clan. Their daughter, Nionne Ollie, was the wife of his predecessor, Attakullakulla.  After the death of his first wife, Oconostota invited Lucy Ward, a former lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England whom he had met in 1730, to join him in Chota. They were married and had one daughter, Lucy Ward II. The identity of Oconostota’s third wife (after Lucy’s death in 1758) is unknown.

Oconostota became the Principal Chief of the Cherokee following the death of his cousin Attakullakulla, sometime around 1775-1777. (He was sometimes called “Stalking Turkey”, a fact which caused confusion in identifying Oconostota versus his uncle Kanagatucko, “Standing Turkey”.) His tenure was fraught with warfare and struggle, which culminated in 1780 in the destruction of Chota-Tanasi by the American revolutionary forces. Oconostota was believed to have died in either 1782 or 1783. He was buried with his hands on his chest holding a broadsword pointing down his body.

State Championship Cowboy Shoot (SASS)

October 29, 2010

Spent two days with my brother Steve at the Single Action Shooters Society’s TN State Championship at the Wartrace Regulators range.   We set up a tent in Traders Row and sold our wares.  It was a good weekend event for me.  We really only had a chance to sell our wares about 2 hours a day and that was at lunch when they finished their matches.

Shooters at one of the stages

I sold several forged items and some of my knives and sheaths.   All and all it was a good event for me.  I was supprised they purchased my highest priced items.  I sold one knife sheath for $250.  Not bad for a few hours work.  Steve sold a custom made knife sheath and made it Saturday morning and the guy picked it up at the end of the day.  We  have decided that we will do at least 4 events next year and increase our inventory of items to sell.

Our booth

My brother David (We lost him to cancer last December) was a member of the Wartrace Regulators and I was wearing some of his clothes.  David and I favored each other considerably.  He was about 4 inches taller than me and I was better looking (ha ha).  It created quite a stir when some of his friends saw me at a distance.  One fellow said I scared the “begeebbies” out of him.  He just knew he had seen a ghost.

It was great to spend the day with my little brother and I really enjoyed the time outdoors.

Happy Trials!