By September our thoughts and actions turn to autumn – fall sports, raking leaves, and cozy weekend campfires. For wildlife, especially pollinators late summer and early autumn are critical times to gather nourishment for migrations or hunkering down for winter’s scarcity.
Feeding on nectar.
Insects find flowers.
Busy at work.
On our daily walks, often in the early morning to avoid late-season heat, we notice and appreciate late bloomers and nut abundance. Nectar is an important food supply for pollinators who busily forage among flowers. When the weather cools, pollinators are out later in the day as the sun warms the air. Remember, there is a “night shift” of pollinators, too, who need flowers to feed from.
Here are some late-blooming flowers we have seen on walks or that we nurture in our yard.
cultivated flowers work, too.
Roadside blooms are important.
Some flowers prefer low lying areas to grow.
We were recently amazed to learn that Pennsylvania has a thriving herd of wild elk.
A couple of times each year we make the long drive from our Iowa home to visit relatives in New Jersey. We traverse Pennsylvania on Interstate 80. For years we’ve been intrigued by interesting and unusual town names we see on roadside signs. Jersey Shore, Mountain Top, and Snow Shoe are examples.
As we approached mid-Pennsylvania recently heading back to Iowa, we tired of the big semi-truck-filled road. So we exited at the tiny town of Snow Shoe and followed smaller paved roads through the forests and clearings of Moshannon State Forest. We soon reached the hamlet of Benezette, the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s wild elk herd.
Thanks to a stop at the visitor center of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance we learned the fascinating story of this massive deer’s return to an area called the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Where Elk Once Trod
When Columbus made landfall wild elk roamed much of what became the United States, even close to the Atlantic Ocean’s shore. Such tasty and large animals had little chance against explosive human population growth and the conversion of wild lands to farms, ranches, roads, and urban areas. By the late 1800s wild elk only lived in wild areas in the Rocky Mountain States.
Fortunately, that’s changed. Now there are wild elk herds in at least 19 states, including Michigan, Minnesota, West Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Kentucky has the largest wild elk herd east of the Rockies with at least 13,000 of the massive deer roaming the state.
How It Happened
In 1912 a shipment of elk was trained from Yellowstone National Park to Pennsylvania and released in the north-central part of the state. It was joined by some animals from a private herd and further releases a few years later. The herd stayed small for years but began expanding during the past few decades. Today about 1,400 wild elk roam the area.
We loved our day in the Benezette area. The lands are managed so large patches of open woods allow visitors to see into the forests hoping to spot elk. It was hot, so the elk were somewhere deep in the shady woods. We didn’t see any but enjoyed learning more in the impressive museum. Then, we walked area trails looking for signs of elk – droppings, and rubs. Hot and thirsty, we stopped at the Elk Life Store for elk hot dogs and a cool beverage. Tasty and with great views. The hills shimmered in the light and streams coursed down the draws and valleys.
Elk bring tourists to the Benezette area. Small lodges, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb’s abound. The most popular time is fall when male, or bull, elk bugle. Make lodging reservations well in advance. For information contact Keystone Elk Country Alliance.
The Keystone Elk Country Land is a cooperative among agencies.
Gracing the entry
We enjoyed an elk dog and beverage.
Rolling hills and small shops characterize Elk Country.
Pennsylvania’s Not Alone
Thanks to the efforts of state wildlife agencies, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, volunteers, and financial donors elk are thriving in many states. Read where elk live. And, for a map, check out the Izaak Walton League’s site.
We even have about 15 elk in Iowa. They’re at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City east of Des Moines.
A trip to Wyoming, Colorado, or Idaho offers wonderful chances to see elk, but elk can be seen far and wide across the Eastern United States.
What’s Egg Color Got to Do With It?
An array of jewels. Photo by Lisa Ramlo.
Are brown-shelled eggs better than white-shelled ones? Supermarkets sell all sorts of eggs. Brown or white shell. Free range or not. Organic. Vegan. Prices per dozen vary greatly. How is a consumer supposed to buy the freshest and tastiest egg?
We’ve been raising chickens for decades and have kept hens that lay white, brown, and even blue and green-shelled eggs. All are laid by birds of the very same species. The nutritional value of an egg is the same no matter what its shell color. Taste varies depending on how fresh the egg is and what the hen ate. It is independent of shell color.
Brown Eggs: Most supermarket brown eggs are laid by hybrid hens, often called ISA Browns. These were developed from the somewhat large Rhode Island Red breed. They may be raised in cages in enormous factory farms or come from a smaller free-range flock. Brown-shelled eggs may be free-range or organic……or not.
White Eggs: Almost all supermarket white eggs are laid by White Leghorn hybrids. They are smaller-bodied hens than brown egg layers and are commonly raised in cages in enormous chicken factory farms.
Blue or Green Eggs: Rarely seen in supermarkets, these beautiful eggs are laid by the Araucana breed or hybrids developed from them. These hens are common in backyard flocks.
Organic: If labeled organic the hens are supposed to have been fed feed raised according to organic standards. Eggs marked vegan or natural may or may not be organic. Be wary of vegan eggs, as hens are omnivores. If they encounter insects, worms or meat scraps they’ll readily devour them.
Cage Free: The hens that laid these eggs normally are crammed into a large building but are not confined to the tight space of a cage. They may, or may not, have access to the outdoors.
Free Range: This is tricky. Supposedly free-range hens have ready access to the outdoors, but there may be only a tiny outdoor run for thousands of hens to enjoy.
How To Tell If Eggs Are Fresh
Store-bought eggs are a pale yellow with runny whites. Fresh eggs radiate a golden hue centered in a firm albumen.
Nearly all egg cartons claim that the eggs inside are fresh, but what does that mean? They could have been laid six weeks earlier. To tell if an egg is fresh, fill a deep bowl with water and gently put an egg on the surface. If it sinks it’s reasonably fresh. If it floats it’s old. The reason is, a fresh egg has a small air cell. As it ages, moisture leaves through the porous shell and the air cell grows, making the egg buoyant.
The white, or albumen, of a fresh egg, will be relatively deep when cracked into the frying pan. It will spread out widely and be flat in an old egg.
How to Tell if Hens are Truly Pastured Raised
Most commercial eggs come from hens fed a specially prepared diet that provides all the nutrients they need but little else. The eggs will have pale yolks. In contrast eggs laid by hens with ready access to green vegetation will lay eggs with deep orange or yellow yolks. Some premium chicken feeds include marigold petals that impart deep color to the yolks.
Choosing the Highest Quality Eggs
It may take buying several dozen differently marketed eggs to find the freshest, tastiest, and most attractive eggs. Although the least expensive eggs usually come from factory farms, the best eggs aren’t always the most expensive. The very best will be fresh and have a boldly colored yolk.
For information on chicken breeds scan the Hoover’s Hatchery Website . For general information on eggs and recipes check out the website of the Egg Industry Center.
Travels this summer showed how varied the North American continent’s vegetation, landscape, and weather are. Most recently we have journeyed from New Jersey to Southern Saskatchewan. Vegetation and terrain could not be more different.
Venturing from “Wide Open Spaces” to “Into the Woods”
Native forbs and grasses cover the land.
The Dixie Girls’ refrain “Wide Open Spaces” describes the terrain we drove through in Southern Saskatchewan. One day Rich hiked to a high spot in Grasslands National Park. Beneath and beyond him were thousands of acres of grasslands – forbs and native grasses. Nary a tree poked upward in this vast and beautiful land.
Brook waters tumble over rocks.
In contrast “Into the Woods” by Sondheim and Lapine would better characterize the roadside woods as our car approached New Jersey six weeks later. Jersey’s woods are so dense and thick that little sunlight filters through the leafy crown. On wood edges, impenetrable tangles of shrubs, brambles and vines seem to be everywhere.
Iowa’s woodlands tend to be more open than eastern woods.
True to its location in “middle America,” our home in Eastern Iowa fits somewhere in between. You might say it is the “Goldilocks Zone” of vegetation. Midwestern woods tend to be more open than New Jersey’s but dense compared with Saskatchewan’s few low brushy areas. Iowa’s neither wide open nor dense but somewhere in between. It’s like a hybrid.
Location, Location, Location
What makes such a striking difference in vegetation extremes? These numbers tell part of the story:
Location Annual Precipitation Annual Mean Temp Wind
Saskatchewan 14” 39 F often and strong
New Jersey 54” 48 F calm to light
Iowa ranges in the middle with an average of 36” of precipitation.
Numbers don’t tell it all. New Jersey’s climate is moderated by the ocean, so the hottest temperature ever recorded near Rich’s hometown of Denville was 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the coldest was -21. That’s a 125-degree variance. In Val Marie, Saskatchewan, the highest temperature ever recorded was 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lowest was -70. That’s a whopping 183-degree variance.
When we visited Val Marie, Saskatchewan, on the summer solstice, the sun was brilliant, the breezes gentle, and the night air cool. Sunsets lingered and the moon seemed to pop over the horizon and grace the landscape all night. Recently, thick smoke from wildfires blanketed the province like it has in Iowa and temperatures soared.
We hit New Jersey just right with warm day temperatures, a slight south breeze, tolerable humidity, and evenings that cooled down. The wildfire smoke had moved out. We were fortunate both times.
Saskatchewan is much further north than New Jersey, so it receives significantly more summer light and much less sunlight in winter. Generally, Saskatchewan enjoys low humidity, while Jersey sweats in humid air year-round.
These differences in light and temperature plus topography, soil type, and the way people manage the landform its appearance and determine what species of plants and wildlife can exist there.
We noticed that people who live in the thickly wooded East are sometimes uncomfortable when traveling in the West’s wide-open spaces and Westerners feel claustrophobic amid the thick growth in the East. Comfort levels vary with the terrain.
Both Saskatchewan and New Jersey do share a common feature. Rocks! Everywhere are pebbles, rocks, and boulders. Saskatchewan was glaciated and rocks, carried in by sheets of ice, litter the fields. Piles dot the fields where ranchers and farmers have piled them so they can till the sandy-type soil. New Jersey’s rocks are often bedrock with glacial striations and miles of rock and stone walls.
New Jersey’s inland landscape is defined by boulders.
What’s the difference between a rock wall and a stone wall? Well, there really isn’t. Both are made of rocks. But some, like rounded glacial rocks, were hauled from fields and tossed into rows to make boundaries. It takes a lot of work to maintain them. As Robert Frost stated in one poem, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Others, flatter rocks like slate and shale, are easier to fit together. Marion’s dad was a stone worker crafting rock walls, carefully choosing rocks to fit well together. These rock walls stand for decades. At any rate, both Saskatchewan and New Jersey have an abundance of rocks that influence how land is used.
One of our traveling pleasures is noting vegetation and topography through our car’s windows, even as we speed along. To us, all places are interesting, and no matter what the terrain and vegetation we’re passing through it’s fascinating.
Pods about ready to harvest.
Well, although some websites suggest that, we don’t know. But, now that you are reading, keep on to learn the verified benefits of this unusual fruit eaten most often as a vegetable. One thing is for sure, it LOVES heat!
Okra is delicious.
Eaten raw just off the plant or carried into the house to mix with steamed or sauteed vegetables we enjoy it. A late summer joy is bringing a bowl of okra pods into the kitchen along with tomatoes, string beans, and chard. Too few backyard gardeners grow okra and most people, at least in northern states, rarely eat it.
Botanically, Okra is a fruit.
Okra originated in Africa and loves rich soil and hot weather. It’s a tall plant that produces gorgeous blooms that quickly become slender pods. We pick the pods when they’re just a few inches long and often cut them in sections, dip the pieces in egg and cornmeal and lightly fry them. Yummy.
Mucilage helps make gumbo gumbo!
Okra is high in fiber, folate, antioxidants, Vitamins A and C. The “slime” many associate with okra is actually mucilage which is helpful in digestion. And, it is the “slime” that makes gumbo, gumbo!
Okra pods grow at an astonishing rate. If we forget to pick them for a few days they grow to six or eight inches long and are woody and inedible. Pick ‘em young and small.
Cookbooks featuring southern cuisine offer many recipes for this vegetable popular south of the Mason-Dixon line but too often ignored up north.
Preserving for the Next Season
Every late summer we let a few pods grow to full size. About the first frost we clip them off, let them thoroughly dry, and remove the seeds for planting next spring.