Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year! - Auld Lang Syne

      Happy New Year!  It's been a great year.  I got to travel, visit family and friends, and started grad school at Auburn.  Let's see what 2013 has in store!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Simple Gifts / Lord of the Dance

      This isn't exactly a Christmas song, but it is still a good song.  There are two sets of lyrics that I know, "Simple Gifts" (the original Shaker song) and "Lord of the Dance" (a hymn to the same tune written in 1967).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Angels We Have Heard on High

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

      "Angels We Have Heard on High", in a clawhammer Banjo style.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Jingle Bells!

      Here is "Good King Jolly Wenceslas" and "Jingle Bells."  As you know, I usually try to include some history of the songs I post, but it was just covered today on the Banjo Hangout.   Two interesting things I have never heard are "Jingle Bells" was originally composed for a Thanksgiving concert, and it was also the first song broadcasted from space.  I don't know if those are true.  I'll have to check into it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Deck the Halls!

Pick those strings and join the chorus
Fa la la la la, la la la la

      The other day I listened to the short story "Banjo Cheer" off of Tony Trischka's Christmas album.  It got me thinking, despite all the haunting tunes I play, the banjo can be quite cheerful, especially when it is used to play Christmas carols.  So over the next few days, I'll be posting my attempts at some Christmas carols.  Today, I'll start by posting banjo cheer, and then my version of "Deck the Halls."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Finally - the Mountain Banjo

      I finally finished my mountain banjo.  It really wasn't that difficult, but it took a while because I didn't have access to tools.  Here you can see me playing an old song called "Sweet Sunny South."  It is fretless, so I'm still training my fingers to fall exactly where the notes are, but considering I've only been doing it for a few days, I'd say I'm doing alright.  I still have to write about constructing the banjo. Those posts will be up soon.
      As you can tell, it's not the best instrument, but it sounds alright.  It's also only my first banjo.  It does have a nice authentic old time, mountain sound.  This particular banjo is modeled after the Stanley Hicks and Frank Proffit style banjos.  These old banjos were typically tuned lower (perhaps to reduce string tension that could warp necks) and had gut strings (I substituted nylon for gut strings).  I usually play this particular tune in G modal tuning (gDGCD) but for this banjo it is tuned down a few half steps (eBEAB).  The combination of the nylon strings, lower tuning, and goat skin head give the banjo a nice plunky sound.
      If you are interested in making one of these, click here to see how I built the banjo.  Finally I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this project by providing insight, tools or materials.  Randy Cordle of Bluestem Strings provided free plans.  Steve Matechik provided tools and scrap material.  Mr. Syzdek happily let me use his bandsaw on two occasions and a nice, new workbench.  Carol loaned me her drill.  Thanks everyone.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgigging Report - 2012

      This year I continued my tradition of ending Thanksgiving with a flounder gigging trip.  Our hopes were high as we passed hordes of shoppers on our way to Destin.  Just the night before, our efforts had earned us five nice fish.  Being away at Auburn made it hard for me to know where the fish were and how they were behaving.  Normally I start following the flounder in the early fall, but this year I the only information I had was from the previous night.  The flounder run didn't seem to be as good as last year, but there were still fish to find... Or so I thought.
      Unfortunately, this year was a bust.  In 2 hours of wading we saw only a few beds and zero flounder.  The conditions were nearly identical to the night before, so I expected the night to be productive.  It wasn't.  There were some other giggers already out when we arrived and I thought maybe they got most of the fish.  After chatting with a few of them, I learned we weren't alone.  Some guys with a boat said they had been out for three hours and only got one fish.  Oh well, at least I had the fish from the night before.  This years run won't be lasting as long as last year', when I was still catching fish through December 6th.  I'm done for this year.

P.S. - Sorry, no pictures for now.  My camera isn't working.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chicken of the Woods

The sulfur shelf (Laetiporus sulphurus) or chicken of the woods.  (Photo by Jenna Crovo)
      Back in late September, I was conducting some fish surveys in the smokies.  While wading down a stream, I noticed some fungi known as the sulfur shelf (Laetiporus sulphurus) or the chicken of the woods.  They are known by many to be edible* and quite tasty.  However, they can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people (upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea), so be careful if you eat them.  DO NOT eat them if they are growing on Hemlock.  Furthermore, if they are growing on dead wood, DO NOT eat them unless you are sure it is not hemlock.  This blog post is just a short description and should not be used to identify mushrooms.  Consult an expert and a field guide for proper identification.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


      The Fralic's hosted the second old time jam at their barn.  Lindsey and Phil played Angelina Baker on their fiddles while I added the percussion, using a technique called fiddlesticks.  To achieve the percussive affect, just use chopsticks to lightly tap the strings of the fiddle between the bow and the fiddler's left hand.  As a side note, we were inspired by this video of Tim Eriksen.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Angelina Baker

Angelina Baker
Angelina Baker's gone
She left me here to weep a tear
And beat on the old jaw bone

       Here is another old-time tune done in the clawhammer banjo style.  It is the first old time song I heard in a live, grassroots setting.  A week later, I bought my banjo.  The tune is called "Angelina Baker".  Despite the upbeat sound, the lyrics can be pretty sad.  The traditional Steven Foster lyrics are about a slave who mourns the loss of his lover after she is sold away.  There are some differences between this song and a later song "Angeline the Baker," but aside from the lyrics, I'm not exactly sure what they are.  If anybody knows, please shed some light on the topic.  This version is a combination of Mike Iverson's version I learned a while ago, and my own version.  In fact, it may actually be a blend of the two aforementioned songs, if they are indeed different.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Winemaking Tip: Leaving WIne on the Lees

      One thing I have noticed about home winemakers, mead makers, and brewers is how overly controlling many van be about making their product.  It is great that in this modern age, we have science, precise measuring tools and the technology to replicate earlier recipes.  However, one shouldn't get so involved in all the details that wine making, mead making or brewing loose their charms.  Too often, I have encountered brewers that have two-thousand dollars worth of equipment and fret over the most minuscule details, but their beer isn't all that great.  On many occasions people have even complimented me on one of my creations, and then after asking me how I made it, they seem upset when I explain my techniques and they then proceed to tell me what I did "wrong."  What is both frustrating and amusing is these people usually don't make wine, mead, or beer that tastes as good as mine.  Don't misinterpret me, I still use good techniques (e.g. proper sanitation, record keeping, utilize high quality ingredients), but I do believe that sometimes too much effort is invested for too little returns.  In these cases, it may be easier to just do it the simple way.  So, in my new series of posts, I will be giving little tips on how to brew, make wine, or make mead the simple (not to mention cheap and easy) way!  I have already discussed many of these techniques with both friends and strangers at bars and I've got plenty of resistance.  To any doubters I will say the same thing I say to everyone else.  Before you label my techniques as rubbish, come on over to my place and try some of my drinks that are made simply.  Then (like some ignorant people) you can tell me how wrong I am while we both drink some delicious, improperly-made drinks.  Any, I have vented enough, on to tip number 1!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The fruit of the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) are as distinctive in flavor and aroma as they are in appearance.  Photo by Jenna Crovo, used with permission.
      A little over a week ago, I was doing some fish collecting on the Paint Rock River (North of Huntsville, AL).  Fortunately, we found some rare blotchside log perch, but that is not the topic of this post.  Instead I would like to focus on the not-so-rare, but very useful, spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  I didn't notice it on my previous trips to the area, but now that the bush is fruiting it is very easy to spot.  Before you go out searching riverbanks and creek edges, you probably want to know what you can use spicebush for*.  Well, read on, because it has multiple uses.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Barn Bash

      One of my professors at Florida State University (Mark Ziegler) always says the best way to improve at something is by upward social comparison; that is, associating with people better than yourself so you will be challenged and eventually improve.  That is a theory I have been embracing over the summer with my banjo playing.  I have been trying to play with as many people as possible, whenever possible.  Fortunately, the local musicians are very talented and pretty accommodating.  The other night I had the opportunity to jam with Phil Mc, Ross Wall, and Lindsey Lester, all of whom are very talented on multiple musical instruments.  It was an awesome night.  The jam took place near a barn in a farm field, the perfect setting for grassroots music.  The deafening sound of competing katydids and cicadas was drowned out by the soft twang of banjos, the rhythmic chords of guitars, and the lilting melodies of fiddles.  Most of the songs that were played early on were easy enough for me to play.  Later we moved on two songs that I could just follow along with.  Eventually the songs reached a point were I couldn't keep up, but I still enjoyed listening, and that's part of learning too.  I'll have to learn the song above.  It combines two of my favorite things, cast iron cooking and old time music  It's called "Keep my Skillet Good and Greasy,"and Ross and Lindsey have a great rendition.  Anyway, I know I have posted a lot of banjo stuff lately, but I promise I'll get some biology, hiking, paddling and herb posts up soon.  Until then, check out the rest of this post and listen to some great music.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Auburn Jams!

Photo from the Corner News.
      Playing music with others is almost always better than playing music by yourself, but sometimes it can take a little while to find the elusive jams that happen around town.  So, for any other Auburn folks looking to play some music, and for those who just want to hear some grassroots music, I am posting this article that appeared in the Corner News a while ago.  It describes some of the local jams.  So far, I have only been to the Irish Bred Pub jam, which is a lot of fun, but I can't vouch for the other jams.  Anyway, I'll be at the next jam on August 5th, I hope to see you there.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


      Here is an old song called "Waterbound."  I'm still not that good at singing and playing yet so there are a few mistakes.  I originally learned this song from Mike Iverson's tabs when I first started banjo.  I have since changed the arrangement a little, but his tabs could get you started.  Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Friday, July 13, 2012

2 Years of Banjo!

      It's hard to believe it, but I have been playing banjo for two years already.  Man, time is flying, but at least I'm enjoying it.  As motivation for me to continue to challenge myself, I looked up a video of me playing when I was a fledgling musician.  I didn't realize I had come so far.  I always write that I have issues to work on (usually tempo and varying the melody), but at least I am improving.  I plan on challenging myself and playing with some musicians around Auburn (most are much better than me).  I hope this video also motivates anybody who is considering taking up the banjo, or any instrument.  Just be careful, it can be addicting.  In the last two years, I have also started learning guitar, ukulele, and the fiddle.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Building a Mountain Banjo: Rough-cutting the Neck

This is a continuation of my series of posts documenting my construction of a mountain banjo.  Earlier posts include Building a Mountain Banjo: The Pot and Building a Mountain Banjo: Marking the Neck.

      I actually did this way back in May, before I moved to Auburn, but I am just now getting a chance to write about.  Compared to marking the neck, rough-cutting the neck was a quick process.  The final shaping will be a different story (especially since I don't currently own a draw-knife, block plane, or rasp).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

      On America's birthday, plenty of people grill out.  I didn't want to spoil any holiday appetites, so I waited until the end of the day to post this.  Even after watching this, I still think hot dogs are awesome.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


      Here is another fiddle tune that I played on my banjo.  Duane also recorded this piece, which is why the sound quality is better than most of my videos.  This particular arrangement is by Mike Iverson, and the tabs are available for free.  I know a lot of folks are opposed to tabs, so I'll add my two cents.  I don't believe I could consider myself a good musician if I only used tabs, but they do help me learn.  I use tabs on some songs and then try to incorporate what I learned from the tabs when I work out my own arrangements for songs.  By using the tabs, I can learn from Mike, even through we are geographically separated.  Yes, I also believe that it is up to the individual player to develop their own style, and I'm working on mine. However, I can still be influenced by others including Mike.  His melodic style has definitely influenced me.  I still make my own music, but it would be a shame not to learn from these tabs just for the sake of saying, "I don't use tabs."  By the way, I have been playing for 2 years now!  As you can tell, I still need to work on keeping time, but I'm getting better.  Soon, I'll post a then and now video that anybody considering starting a musical instrument should find inspiring.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Herps at Telogia Creek

A Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti) that I  came face to face with as I climbed some stumps.  I could tell that this one was about to shed because the eye is cloudy blue and the skin is pale.
      In scientific fields it is often important for one to specialize in a certain area of study.  As you probably already know, I am specializing in conservation of endemic fishes.  However, I have rarely met a biologist who hasn't had at least a general understanding of other organisms around them, and based on my personal experience, I think it is safe to say that most are still interested with groups of organisms (biologists call these groups taxa) that aren't within their particular specialization.  For example, I am always noticing the native plant life around my and I also like herps (reptiles and amphibians).  So, even though I didn't catch any of the fish I was looking for on my last collecting trip, I still had a good time because I encountered some cool reptiles and amphibians.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Building a Mountain Banjo: Marking the Neck

This is a continuation of my series of posts that are following my construction of a mountain banjo.  If you missed the first post it is available here, Building a Mountain Banjo: The Pot.

Here are some basic tools that I used to measure out my neck because I couldn't get a hold of full size plans.  
      Before I could begin measuring out the neck, I head to find suitable material for the neck.  If you look at the profile of the neck on the plans (courtesy of bluestem strings) you will notice that the angled headstock makes it necessary to use a large block of wood if you want to cut the neck from a block of wood rather than joining a headstock onto a smaller piece of wood.  Some people get away with joining a headstock (I myself have used the method to construct a cigar box guitar), but a neck cut out of block of wood is stronger and looks nicer.  That does not mean the block of wood has to be solid.  Roughing out this neck from a block (laminated or solid) of wood requires the block to be at least 25 1/4" long x 2"wide (not accounting for the width of the headstock) x 2"deep (accounting for the angled head stock).  These are the bare minimum measurements with no extra room.  I found it easier to use a 3" x 3" block.  However, a neck is best made out of hardwood, and a 3" x 3" block can be expensive.  So, I laminated 3, 1" x 3" pieces of poplar together to form a block that was 26" x 3" x 3".  All I had to do was cut the poplar to length, dampen the sides to be joined, apply gorilla glue and clamp the pieces tight overnight.  I should also point out that I followed some advice I found on both the Banjo Hangout and the Bluestem Strings websites that said to try and book match the grain.  I'm not sure if I did this correctly, but I'll describe what I did.  I had two slab sawn pieces (quarter sawn would be better but this is a homemade banjo that I'm not investing much money in it) with curves in the grain (when viewed from the end of the board) and one without curves.  I put the one without curves in the middle and laminated the others on the side so their curves were convex to the middle piece.  Hopefully these crude drawings will clarify things.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

-General MacArthur

      It's just something to think about while you enjoy the day off and grill some food.  Take some time to remember those who have suffered for us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Old-Time Jam: New Timey Technology for Old Timey Needs

Oldtime jams can be a great way to meet musicians and learn new tunes, but not every area has local jams and not everyone can make it to jams even if there are some nearby.  Old-Time Jam is a resource for musicians in either of those situations.
      I just found a great resource for old-time musicians, Old-Time Jam!  I can't believe it took me this long to find this website.  Basically, it is a media player that has tracks for numerous old time songs played in various ways (banjo and fiddle, backup guitar, fiddle and guitar etc.), and also displays the chord progression for the songs.  Creator, Josh Turknett, intended for it to be a practice tool for old-time musicians so they could work on songs even when there aren't other musicians to jam with.  He did a great job achieving that goal.  In addition, it is pretty relaxing to just let the tunes play in the background even when you aren't playing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sautéing the Chanterelles

Some smooth chanterelles in the raw form.
      I was told that chanterelles have a lot of moisture and can get quite mushy if prepared improperly.  I didn't want to waste my harvest so I looked up the proper way to cook them on youtube.  The only change I made is I didn't add butter.  I didn't have any.  In addition, I find it humorous that so many foragers rave about how good something is and then they tell you to fry it in butter or bacon grease (think Euell Gibbons).  I appreciate there knowledge, but I have to say that practically anything would taste good if it was fried in butter or bacon grease.  Anyway, here is the video.  Mine came out alright, but most of them were smooth chanterelles which are not known for being as good as golden chanterelles.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Alabama Chanterelles

A smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus confluens) emerges from the leaf litter.  This was just one of three edible chanterelle species that I have found in the last week.
      Last week, I left the Florida coastline behind and moved to Auburn.  I left behind ample outdoor recreational opportunities in Navarre, and hoped Auburn would be able to provide some new experiences.  From the moment I arrived in Auburn I noticed how green and verdant it was.  The mesic soil supports more hardwoods than I was used to seeing in Florida (excepting some unique Florida steephead ravine habitats).  The abundant wildflowers and lush plants make these Alabama forests especially inviting, but this post is not about plant life.  Instead it is about some amazing organisms that spend most of their lives under the thick, rich leaf litter mingling with tree roots.  Unnoticed beneath the forest floor are hyphae, filamentous growths of fungi, that form mats of mycelia.  While the mycelia may be hard to notice, the fruiting bodies that form when two compatible mycelia meet and reproduce are more easily noticed.  This is especially true when the fruiting bodies are bright-colored, edible mushrooms such as the chanterelles.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Brewing Remains Illegal

      If you read my blog, you probably know that I like to brew beer and I recently moved to Alabama.  Unfortunately, home brewing is illegal in Alabama (and Mississippi).  This state has a lot going for it, but there are definitely a lot of hardcore bible thumpers that live in fear.  For the past few years, Alabama homebrewers have been fighting to legalize homebrewing.  Unfortunately, the bill that would have legalized homebrewing in Alabama did not make it through the senate.  I guess there is always next year.  I am not going to rewrite what I have already posted, but if you think that homebrewing is risky or contributes to social degradation, read my post about brewing rights.

Collecting at Telogia Creek

This may not look like much at first glance, but if you look closely you will notice that what looks like dirt or algae is actually a pair of eyes.  They belong to a flatfish called the hogchoker (Trinectes maculates)
      I had only been in Auburn for 6 days before the sunshine state lured me back home.  On Tuesday, however, I wasn't going home for a visit.  My lab mates and I went down south to Telogia Creek to collect some banner fin shiners (Cyprinella leedsi).  For me personally, the trip was a little ironic.  After anxiously waiting to start school at Auburn, I ended up going to a site less than an hour from Florida State, where I recently spent four years as an undergrad.  Fortunately, the panhandle of Florida has a special charm so I didn't mind being back.  There is something alluring about the mix of tannic and spring fed streams, lush deciduous trees and towering pines, and sandy slopes and moist floodplains that I just can't resist.  The live oaks (Quercus virginiana) covered in resurrection fern and spanish moss conjure up images of the deep south while the sabal palms (Sabal palmetto) and sea breezes remind one that the bountiful Gulf of Mexico is not out of reach.  However, on Tuesday I learned that not everyone feels that way.  Apparently some Alabamians view the Florida panhandle the same way that the panhandlers view Alabama (while people from the rest of Florida jokingly refer to the panhandle as southern Alabama).  I insisted that if everyone tried smoked mullet, a local delicacy, their opinions would instantly change.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On to Auburn (and other updates)

A scene from Auburn University.
      Many of you have probably noticed that I haven't posted in a while.  Well, I was actually living in a tent while I looked for a place in Auburn.  In some ways it was nice.  I caught my first Alabama fish (a largemouth bass from a deep pool in a woodland stream), found three species of edible chanterelles (more on them in a future post), and explored around the cool, mesic forests that were a welcome change from the xeric pine communities of Navarre, Florida.  In other ways it was not so nice.  The frontal system that moved through on Saturday and Sunday literally dampened my spirits.  I spent the night in my gore-tex rain gear because my tent seems were all leaking.  However, I did get to rough the worst of the storm with two random guys who were also living at the campground, Cody and Hootie.  They construct large, concrete holding tanks around the country and were proud of their work.  That seems pretty rare these days.  They sometimes stay at campgrounds to save cash and, like me, they had to face the storm.  So, we had a couple beers, some homemade loquat mead, played banjo, and listened to the sound of the rain resonate as it forcefully collided with the tin roof of the picnic pavilion.  It was great having some friends to weather the storm with.  Although I probably won't see them again, it was one of many encounters I've had with complete strangers that I won't forget.  It's something you can't understand if you live your life secluded in an apartment or locked up in a hotel room.

I caught my first AL fish here at Chewacla Creek.
Some smooth chanterelles are breaking through the moss and leaf litter.
Some cinnabar red chanterelles.

      So why did I come to Auburn in the first place?  Well, I'm starting grad school!  I'll be working with Dr. Johnston in the Fisheries Department.  My main focus will be conservation of the pygmy sculpin (Cottus paulus), but I'll have two years to write about that, so I won't go into detail today.  I've already met some cool people, went on a fish collecting trip (more on that later), found chanterelles and blueberries, and found some local jams, all in less than a week.  I think I'll like it here.

Other updates:

      The daylilly had a spectacular bloom this year.  There were some typical six tepaled (they are technically not all petals...see earlier post) flowers and some with extra tepals as I hoped for.

The daylillies in bloom.
Mountain Banjo
      I got to put a little time in on the mountain banjo project.  I laminated three pieces of wood together so I had a large block that I roughed the neck out of.  I have not done the final shaping yet.  I'll write a more detailed post on the banjo soon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More Mushroom Mysteries

These huge boletes popped up over night.  If only I could have identified them to species.
      About 2 weeks ago, my area was hit by a pretty intense rainstorm.  While my friends were starting to worry about the hot and humid weather that would follow, I began to hope for one more crop of edible pinewood king boletes (Boletus pinophilus).  Sure enough, as I drove down my street I noticed three huge boletes growing on the side of the road amongst some old and decaying pinewood king boletes I had seen earlier in the season.  These mushrooms were huge, and they weren't there the night before.  I quickly pulled off the road and harvested them.  The mushrooms surprised me because they had popped up so quickly and late in the year, but the real surprise would come later.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Building a Mountain Banjo: The Pot

      In an earlier post I wrote that the true essence of the banjo is taking what one has, and making music out of it.  That is what the earliest banjo players did with their instruments consisting of a gourd covered in skin, a stick for a neck and some strings.  In time the banjo evolved into the modern banjo, which is probably what most people think of when a banjo is mentioned.  However, the were many intermediate styles and designs that developed after the gourd banjo and before the modern banjo.  One that has always interested me is the "mountain banjo."  It is a unique banjo design that was intended to be easily constructed with limited tools.  Unlike some other designs, it does not require laminating ply to form a circular pot nor does it utilize a gourd or grain measure for the pot.  Instead, circular shops are cut our of solid wood stock.  It is probably not the strongest method, but it works.  I have wanted to build a banjo for some time and this type of banjo seems like one of the easiest to build.  In addition, I also like the old fashioned look and sound of this banjo style.  Today I had a little time off, so I just decided to start building one, but I have very limited experience building instruments.  I once built a cigar box guitar, but that is it.  I have documented what I have done below.  As I build more I'll be sure to post updates.  Anyway before I get any farther, I figured I should add a video so you can hear a "mountain banjo."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mutant Daylily

This daylily has an extra petal and an extra sepal.  It doesn't always bloom this way. I'm anxious to see if it will occur again this year.
      Yesterday, I noticed that my daylily (Hemerocallis sp.) is about to bloom.  Last year, it surprised me because instead of having 6 tepals it had 8 (a tepal is just a petal or sepal.  Most non-botany people refer to both the petals and sepals on a daylily as "petals" but, the outer "petals" are actual sepals.  See photo below for clarification).  I think this is just a simple mutation, similar to the mutation that causes 4 leaf clovers but, I am not sure.  It will be interesting to see if this occurs again.  I'll update if it does.  I won't be able to post for the next few days but, hopefully I'll have some material to write about when I get back online again.  By the way, daylily flowers are also edible.

Foraging and Fishing - Early April

A keeper speck caught just before sunset.  The fishing and the foraging are both good right now.
      I have not posted in a while.  Partly because I have been working a lot, and partly because the little time that I have when I am not working I have been out getting free food from nature!  The foraging* is excellent now, and so is the fishing!  I love spring.  This post is just a summary of what I have been finding and catching over the past week and a half.  Some of the fruit showed up a little early, but winter never really came, and spring was very warm.  Most of these species are pretty common, so you should be able to find them too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mushroom Mystery Solved!

Welcome to the world of mycophylia!
-Adam Giek 

John was curious about seeing my harvest.  I think his expression reveals that he was impressed.
       A few days ago I posted that I was trying to positively identify a mushroom.  It turns out, the mushroom was not the king bolete (Boletus edulis) but, it was a very similar species, the pinewood king bolete (Boletus pinophilus).  The pinewood king bolete is also edible, so I returned to my patches and collected a few more. My original hypothesis was wrong, but not too far off.  In fact, the pinewood king bolete was formerly labeled as a subspecies of the king bolete.  It has since been raised to the level of species.  However, it is always best to be sure with mushrooms.  This identification was only my second experience identifying wild, edible mushrooms.  Fortunately, the boletes are one of the safer groups to learn on.  I still recommend that anybody who is not familiar with wild mushrooms consult a local expert when trying to identify a species for the first time.  I did, and the responses I received were both abundant and helpful.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Shady Grove

Cut a banjo from a gourd
Strung it up with twine
And every tune that I play
Will help to make her mine 

      I had a great time recording "Fall on My Knees" and a lot of people seemed to like it.  During that session, Daune and I also recorded another awesome old time song called "Shady Grove."  Unlike "Fall on My Knees," which is about lost love, this song is about finding love.  It is usually done as a modal tune.  I don't know too much music theory, but I think it means that it is not in a major key, or a minor key.  Duane did a great job managing the recording equipment and also provided some more percussive guitar.  This particular version uses some traditional verses and some that I made up.  A few were made up on the fly, and a few were messed up on the fly.  By the time we recorded this song, we had been up for hours doing some serious recording and a little drinking.  We decided to have fun rather than reach perfection.  Mistakes were inevitable, but I personally prefer this song in its raw, unrehearsed form.  If you are interested in the song, check out my ever growing list of verses.  I am going to try to add a new verse every month.  In fact, after leaving Charm City (Baltimore) I was reminiscing about the good times I had up there and I came up with this verse.

It's a long, long way to Baltimore
The place they call Charm City
But I hear up there the good beer flows
And all the girls are pretty

Monday, March 26, 2012

Flounder and Crabs, March 14th -17th

Although forced perspective is at work in this photo, this blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) was indeed a  huge crab.  (Photo by John Dougherty, used with permission.)
      Once again, I am posting something a little late, but this time it is not my fault.  After looking at some of my blog stats I noticed that posts with good pictures get many more hits, so I waited until my friend sent pictures before I started writing.  What follows is just a brief report for each night.  As usual, I hope this information helps but don't ask me where I was.  My friend John is more protective of his spots than I am and my fish are still in his freezer.  If I post something too specific, he might just eat them all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Weeding = Free Food

The tasty tuber from the common southern weed, Florida betony (Stachys floridana).  Some say it resembles a rattlesnakes tail, hence one of the common names, rattlesnake weed.
       Two common north Florida lawn and garden weeds are Florida betony (Stachys floridana) and the wild onion or meadow garlic (Allium canadense).  Both weeds have underground structures that store energy.  The Florida betony has a tuber (an underground, energy storing root) while the wild onion has a bulb (an underground, energy storing stem).  If the tubers and/or bulbs are not removed with the weed, new shoots will sprout and the weeds persist.  Many gardeners spend a lot of time digging up the tubers and bulbs in order to remove the weeds.  However, a lot of people I have talked to do not know that the underground parts of the plants that they worked so hard to remove can be eaten*, and are actually pretty good.  In fact, one spring while I was clearing a garden plot I removed hundreds of wild onion bulbs and betony tubers.  At the time, I knew about wild onions so I ate some and dried the rest, but I discarded all of the betony.  Now I know better.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spore Print Results

      Yesterday, I was trying to positively identify a mushroom that I suspected was a King Bolete (Boletus edulis).  In my post, I explained that I was taking a spore print to help identify the mushroom.  A spore print is basically a collection of tiny spores that are too small to see individually, but visible in the aggregate form.  The print allows a mycologist (one who studies mushrooms) or forager to determine the color of the spores which is very useful when trying to identify a mushroom. To make a print you place the cap of a mushroom on a flat surface (paper, cardboard, or glass), cover it with a container to prevent air circulation from scattering the spores, and let the spores pile up underneath the cap.  It usually takes a few hours, but I just let my prints form overnight.  After posting last night, I set up my spore print and went to sleep.  In the morning, I was anxious to see the results.  And the results visible spore print.  I was a little disappointed, but there are so more mushrooms of the same species popping up.  I think the specimen I picked was immature, so if I let the others mature longer, I should be able to form a readable spore print.  I'll update the blog when I get more conclusive results.  Until then, I am just drying my mushroom. If it turns out to be an edible bolete, I'll eat it.  If not, I'll throw it in my garden to decompose.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Could this be the King Bolete?

The mushroom that I suspect may be a king bolete (Boletus edulis).  The quarter is for scale.
       Whenever I walk, run, or bike around town, I always glance along the roadsides looking for interesting wildlife, plants, or wild edibles.  Today I went on a short ride to check on an old muscadine vine and along the way I noticed a nice looking mushroom.  There is a possibility that it is a king bolete (Boletus edulis).  I am somewhat familiar with them, but I have never seen one in this region before.  King boletes out west have yellow spore tubes.  The tubes on this mushroom were tan, but they might just be young.  There were a few smaller mushrooms around.  I'll let them mature longer than this one and see if the tubes turn yellow.  Mushrooms can vary greatly from region to region so I wanted to make sure this is indeed a king bolete.  I contacted my brother, a hobbyist mushroom forager, and he thinks it is a king bolete too, but he is more familiar with mushrooms of the intermountain west.  I also contacted my former roommate and coworker who is also a skilled mushroom forager.  He said, "it could be...there are a lot of other boletes in the southeast though."  He also informed me that the general rule with boletes is Do Not Eat any that bruise blue or have red spores.  With mushrooms (and plants), it is important to be sure of what you are eating so he suggested I contact a local expert.  I am taking his advice.  A quick google search led me to contact the University of West Florida Mycology Club.  Hopefully somebody from the club will be able to share some knowledge, but I am also curious to hear from any readers who have experience with mushrooms of the Gulf coast.  Do you think it is a king bolete?  Identifying characteristics are listed below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I got drunk and fell on the floor this morning
I got drunk and fell on the floor this morning
I got drunk and fell on the floor
It was good corn liquor and I want some more, this morning!
-verse from the old time song, "Policeman".


      My friend recently posted an old version of this song on facebook.  He tagged me and then wrote something about how the song was inspired by our adventure.  The lyrics are about a guy getting arrested so naturally people jokingly asked if we had a run in with the police.  Sorry but there is no exciting arrest story to tell.  The truth is we were just out gigging and this song just happened to pop into my head.  We both sang it throughout our adventure thus inspiring John to post it online.  John's posting inspired me to learn it so here it is.  I learned it by ear but it's a pretty simple tune so it didn't take long.  As usual it will be some time before I can sing and play this song at the same time.  When I can, I'll post an update.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Carnivorous Pitcher Plants

A flowering white-topped pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla).  If you could actually look closely at the inside of the pitcher, you would notice downward pointing hairs, called spicules, that allow insects to go down the pitcher but make it very hard for them to climb or fly up.
      Florida is a great place to be a naturalist.  There is such a wide variety of habitats resulting in a wide variety of species that can be found.  If you have read this blog before, you know that I work with fish but, I am also a a hobby-botanist.  During this time of year, I can't help but notice all the flowers that are blooming and plants that are leafing out.  While on a short walk the other day, I noticed this white-topped pitcher plant so I snapped a few photos.  These plants used to very common in my my neighborhood but there aren't that many these days.  Fire suppression, habitat destruction, nutrient and herbicide runoff, and over-harvesting are all threats to pitcher plants.  If you want to learn more, check out this link.  Florida has some other carnivorous plants, including other species of pitcher plants and some species that aren't pitcher plants.  I have a few photos of them too.  Maybe I'll write some posts about them.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Flounder Are Back!

John and the first flounder he ever gigged.  You can see that his predatory instincts have taken over.
      It's time to sharpen your gigs and hit the water; The flounder are back!  I went out last night with my friend, John Dougherty, and we found our first fish in about 40 minutes.  He was in about 1.5' of water next to some inundated cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora).  John had been with me on less productive trips and was sick this November, so he had never gigged a fish.  I let him make his first kill and he was hooked.  There is something about gigging a fish that taps into your primordial, predatory instincts, and John liked connecting with his primitive roots.  As the fish thrashed and tried to escape, I scolded John for using his left hand to hold a beer rather than retrieve his fish.  I solved the issue by finishing the beer and stashing the empty bottle in my pack.  With a decent 18" flounder, we checked the rest of the cordgrass and then departed for a new location.  We picked up his friend on the way and prepared for more gigging.  We saw some porcupine fish and even some spawning horseshoe crabs.  I often saw horseshoe crabs around St. Teresa, FL, but I haven't seen many near Pensacola.  It was neat to see them cruising the shallows looking for mates.  Next we spotted squid stealthily darting through the water.  They were tough to see, but we caught one.  Finally, after much more walking, we spotted a very camouflage flounder.  I gigged him in the head.  We never measured him, but he was bigger than the first.  By the end of the night, we had two decent flounder, some crabs and some squid.  There aren't a lot of flounder yet, but more will come
     We didn't get a lot of fish, but the night was a success because I helped John gig his first fish.  He must have really liked it.  In fact, I just spent the last few hours helping John make his own gigging light, and then he tried to convince me to go tonight, despite the gusty conditions.   If you are interested in gigging, check out some of my other posts under the "fishing" label.  This one explains what equipment you need, and I'll soon write posts about where to go, and how to make your own light.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Teaberry: American Wintergreen

American winterberry, or Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens), a great trailside nibble.
       Last week, I spent some time with my grandparents in Pennsylvania and I learned of an herb that they called teaberry.  I was told that even in winter, the leaves of the evergreen plant remain, so I thought there was a chance that I could still find some.  However, teaberry did not appear in any of my books, so I didn't even know exactly what to look for.  With a few inches of fresh snow on the ground, and more falling, I laced up my boots and trudged out into the old field adjacent to my grandparent's house.  In no time at all, I found a small, evergreen plant, that had a slight scent of wintergreen.  This was the plant!  What I did not expect were the many red, persistent fruit that had set in the summer, still clinging to the plant just inches above the frozen ground.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fall On My Knees

I never would've kissed
Your red rosy lips
Never heard your lying tongue, little girl
Never heard your lying tongue

      Another banjo tune! Unlike the videos I've posted in the past, this one was recorded with actual recording equipment (i.e. not an iphone or point and shoot camera). My cousin Duane was responsible for the excellent recording and took great care to make sure the multiple microphones were positioned in the perfect places to pick up both of our instruments and voices. It was a lot of fun to record on real equipment, although it took me a little while before I got used to all the microphones. Once I forget that the microphones were there, everything came together.
      This song is a blast to play thanks to it's upbeat tempo.  To me, this song is all about the energy and drive so I try to emphasize the rhythm rather than the melody.  I didn't play any intricate melody in this song and for the most part I stuck to the basic bum-ditty banjo lick.  Duane also did a great job contributing to the rhythm with his percussive guitar techniques.
      I also finally built up the confidence to sing with my banjo, a skill that many banjo players encourage to new players. I took their advice and it not only added another dimension to my songs, but also made playing a whole lot more fun. If you are learning the banjo, give it a try. Nobody cares if you make a few mistakes. This is old fashioned folk music, not refined, auto-tuned and artificial pop music. In the end, I think Duane and I did pretty well, and we both had a blast creating some foot-stompin' music

Friday, February 17, 2012


      This is a little late, but I have not had internet access so I'm posting it today as opposed to Tuesday.  Since we just had Valentine's Day, the classic image of a heart is fresh in many people's minds.  Although real hearts don't look anything like that there are many other things in nature that do.

The cross-section of this pignut hickory (Carya glabra) seed has a nice heart shape.  Others liken the shape to a pig's nose, hence the common name.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Spring Time in the Southeast

      It is with great irony that I am writing this post because it is snowing outside right now.  However, I'm in Baltimore, not the southeast, and on my drive up here I was able to see the early signs of spring.  Last Friday, I was camping in Blackwater State forest (N. Florida) and the sparkleberries (Vaccinium arboreum) were already in bloom!  Even way back in  January I spotted a "confused" elderberry plant that was flowering.  Normally, I don't see them until early summer.  I was also surprised to see the dewberries (Rubus trivialis) are blooming too.  As long as we don't get a late frost, we should have plenty for eating, making jams, and fermenting into wine or mead.  The fragrant black titis (Cliftonia monophylla) that normally bloom in late February or March are also starting to bloom in wetlands and along roadside ditches.  Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are blooming in hardwood forests and residential areas. Cultivated plants such as Chinese magnolias, red buds, Bradford pears and evens some azaleas are blooming along city streets and in suburban yards.
Dewberries (Rubus trivialis) are blooming early this year.  Pay attention to where you see these flowers because sweet and tart fruit will replace the flowers in late spring (Photo by Jonathan Bollhoefer).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fish or Fishes

Three fish but two fishes (i.e. mullet and speckled trout).
      In case you didn't know..."Fish" can be singular (e.g. "look at that fish over there") or plural (e.g. "look at those fish over there"). "Fishes", on the other hand, is plural but it refers to the number of species (not individuals of fish.  For example, if you caught a bass and a catfish, you could say, "Look at these fishes!"  If you caught two bass you would say "Look at these fish!"  Of course, fishes could also be used to describe the act of fishing (in the third person, singular present tense) such as "He fishes everyday."  Anyway, I just figured I would clear this up because I'll be using both words when I write about fish and fishes.

Lapse in Posts

      I received a message from a concerned reader who noted that I have not updated the blog lately.  Apparently he needs something to read at work.  Although I do not officially condone reading my blog at work  (feel free to pass the link on to your coworkers) I will try to get some more posts up by tonight or tomorrow at the latest.  I have not been neglecting my readers.  I have actually been on a marathon drive this week, and the week before I was having issues booting up my 2007 PC.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Endangered Fishes in Our Own Backyard

The roundtail chub (Gila robusta), a vulnerable species, in spawning coloration.  I was fortunate enough to see these beautiful fish when I worked in Wyoming.
      It seems to me that the average person I talk to knows what an endangered species is.  Most are familiar with the classic endangered species (e.g. tigers, gorillas, etc.).  However, some people seem a little bewildered when I speak about the endangered or threatened species that I have encountered in the U.S.  In reality, endangered species are not restricted to tropical rainforests and developing countries.  In fact, there are many here in America and especially the southeast, including plants, invertebrates, amphibians and of course, fish.  One of the most important aspects of conservation is awareness.  So, here is a list of the "Desperate Dozen," twelve species that the Southeastern Fishes Council has determined the most likely (of the southeastern fishes) to go extinct.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tribute to Rhysling

      Our complete tribute to Rhysling!  We didn't have a drummer tonight, and we need to work on keeping tempo, but it is coming along.  Enjoy!  Also, note how Jonathan gets really excited and looses his pick.

Lyrics by Robert A Heinlein, taken from his short story "The Green Hills of Earth."  Music by Chris and Jonathan.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Green Hills of Earth

      I am writing this at the risk of sounding like the nerdiest person in the world.  Jonathan and I have been goofing around on our instruments, and we ended up putting chords and a melody to a song from one of Robert Heinlein's short stories, "The Green Hills of Earth."  In the story, a jetman, named Rhysling, loses his sight to radiation while working in the engine room of a spacecraft.  Afterwards, he is no longer useful as a jetman (or so people think) so he becomes a space bard, and wanders the solar system with his accordion musically chronicling the people and places he sees. (*SPOILER ALERT-Skip the rest of this paragraph if you ever plan on reading the story.)  Rhysling travels for years and then finally decides to return to "the green hills of Earth."  He bums a ride on a transport and the engine malfunctions causing radioactive material to fill the room.  The jetman on duty dies leaving Rhysling to dump the radioactive material.  As he completes what he knows will be his last task, he describes the solar system in verses, and sings one last revised chorus.

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies
And the cool green hills of Earth!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Netting Mullet from a Canoe

Jonathan shows one of the mullet we captured a few days ago.  This fish actually jumped out of the water to dodge my net and landed on the shore.  Note the jacket, it was very cold.
      I went out to catch a few mullet (Mugil cephalus) with my friend Jonathan Bollhoefer.  Although many of the fish have left to spawn, you can always find a few in some of the brackish tidal creeks of the area.  This is especially true when really cold temperatures concentrate the fish in these creeks.  The creeks may only be a couple of degrees warmer than the bay or sound, but the creeks also tend to have less temperature fluctuations.  Anyway, with the mullet in these creeks, they are pretty easy to catch.  Jonathan paddled the canoe upstream, while I casted my net off the bow of my canoe ( didn't flip.  Canoes are perfectly stable watercraft that are capable of quite a lot, if you understand them.)  It was night, but we had the boat rigged with lights, so we could see the fish running up ahead of us.  After a short time we had "herded" a bunch of fish into a shallow pool.  They started jumping everywhere, and I tossed the net.  I quickly captured 3, while two other mullet that tried to leap to safety jumped right into the black needlerush.  We just picked them up and put them in our boat.  We ended the night with 6 mullet.  We also saw a lonely flounder (probably about 16 inches) who apparently forgot to swim out to the gulf to spawn.  We tried to gig it, but I couldn't get the fish in the boat.  Anyway, the flounder escaped but at least we have some mullet to smoke.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Muscadine Mead

Muscadine Pymet bottled in January 2010.  The label was drawn by Thomas Matechik.
      I recently opened a bottle of my 2010 muscadine pymet.  For those of you who don't know, a muscadine is a southern species of wild grape (Vitis rotundifolia) that is sweeter than normal table grapes with a slight "musty" (though not unpleassent) flavor.  There are many different wild varieties and domestic cultivars, including large and small bronze, green, or purple grapes.  I used to find the most prized variety, the wild scuppernong, all over in and around Tallahassee.  It seemed that almost every rural roadside or city fence had muscadines growing on them.  Also for those of you who don't already know, a pymet is a mead with added grapes (or grape juice).  It is sort of a mead and wine hybrid.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hand-gathered Herbal Tea

Sharing some fresh herbal tea with fellow adventurers, Jon and John.
      Sorry for not posting much the past few days.  I have been busy writing grad school application material and I have also been pretty sick.  Anyway, my fellow adventurer, Jonathan Bollhoefer, arrived in town and wanted to make some tea.  Since I have been sick, I figured it might soothe my sore throat.  He and John went down the street and collected some yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) leaves while I picked out some dried leaves and flowers from my wild herb collection.  The brew tasted pretty good, and it did soothe my throat, but I don't get too caught up in all the healing herb frenzy.  I'm sure the herbs do have medicinal properties, but they were probably overshadowed by all the cough medication I had earlier in the day.  To see how to make the tea for yourself, check out Jonathan's instructions.