Ramble On

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Economics of Hay

As we drove up to the Park Sunday, we took what I like to call the back way, along Ida Road into Luray. This road goes through some farming areas (and large lot development, unfortunately) before curving around to cross Hawksbill Creek near Willow Grove Mill. Ida is where a lot of the folks who moved off the mountains ended up as the Park was being established.

These photos are dark, in the Valley we were under clouds and Ida is nestled up in the hills close to the Park. In fact it is due west of Stonyman mountain.

I've been watching the haying all spring and summer and as we drove along the road we passed this house, where someone's been doing a lot of work this week...last week, the tractor was there and that was all...this week, as you can see, truckloads of big rounds are coming in and there are quite a few rounds already put in for storage.

I thought I might look into the economics of a hay operation, so did some Googling over the last few days and what follows is a summary of what I've found. Some readers may be more familiar with this process than I am, so I welcome any comments or corrections that add insight to this discussion.

  • From a 2005 state report, New Jersey hay yields per acre ranged from about 1.8 to 2.3 tons, depending on the type of hay. For estimating purposes, let's say that is 2 tons per acre.

  • From a 2008 USDA report, good quality alfalfa was getting $100-120 per ton in big rounds. Square bales were higher, I guess because of the additional labor involved.

  • Finally, from another 2008 USDA report, the estimated weight for big rounds is between 500 to 3,000 pounds, depending on the baler equipment used.
From this, I conclude that you can get about $250 an acre or so with this hay farming. In my very limited observations, it seems that there are two seasons here in Virginia, but I haven't noticed that the fields are planted twice with hay. I've also read about rotating crops with corn - I'll need to look into those prices and yields yet...but this means that you can generate $500 or more per acre with plantings - very much a book estimate, and I am sure that there can be a lot of variance based on equipment, operation scale, farmer experience, and microclimate.

I have an article from Progressive Farmer to discuss tomorrow, that will shed some additional light on this topic.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Socked In at Skyland

After a couple of days of wet weather in Page County, Sunday broke warm with low clouds, but no rain. A look over at the mountains showed some drama, as the tops of them were invisible - a cloud layer begin at around 3,000 feet, so upwards of 1,000 feet on the ones that neighbor us was not visible.

Still, Mary and I decided to go an grab lunch at Skyland, so we took a quick drive up there - here are some of the ghostly views that greeted us as we arrived at the resort.

After lunch, I wanted to show her some of the trail features on Stonyman. We have a little drainage problem with the driveway at the cabin, and they've done some things with the Stonyman trail that might work for us. Plus, I figured the trail would be an interesting walk in the clouds.

Here are some of the views along the walk - a fern glade, and then looking up into the forest canopy.

Here is the view from one of the cliffs at the peak, compared to a similar shot from my hike there earlier in the month.

All in all, the experience walking along in the clouds and fog gave us a distinct Big Sur or Monterey Peninsula feeling. Especially in the areas where there were firs and evergreens - the California coast being forested mainly with Cypress.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nov 2008 DC David Byrne Show

Coming of age as I did during the late '70's, and then spending some formative years in Berlin ('81-'86), I have always been a fan of David Byrne and Talking Heads.

David is currently on tour - details at http://www.davidbyrne.com/ - here is a playlist from the recent show in Baltimore:

Strange overtones, I Zimbra, One fine day, Help Me Somebody, Houses in motion, My Big Nurse, My Big hands, Heaven, Home, The River, Crosseyed & Painless, Life is long, Once in Lifetime, Life During Wartime, I Feel my stuffEncores: Take me to the River, The Great Curve, Everything that happens

He will be back in the DC area in November, playing at the Warner Theatre on 9 NOVEMBER 2008...tix are going fast, and two will cost you a minimum of $148...

The wife and I caught his 2004 show at the Birchmere in Alexandria, and we will be at this one too...I highly recommend the performance if you can make it. Here's David's blog entry from that show...we saw him come into the venue just off of his bike, and the bouncer almost didn't let him in! A manager came around and intervened, so the show went on. http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2004/06/6104_washington.html

Trivia question: Crosseyed and Painless is the one with the most excellent Belew solo, right?

By the way, there are videos of some of these songs on the Byrne site.

Whiteoak Canyon - Part 2

Turning west from the little stream crossing, shown in the last photo from yesterday's entry, the trail immediately begins to climb. Gently at first, but steadily. The stream has small cataracts here and there, and widens out into still pools for the most part.

Finally, you come to the first of the main falls, shown in the next photo. As I'd mentioned, even on a Friday during the school year, this trail has traffic. There were several people picnicing at the base of the falls, so I couldn't get closer for a better photo.

From the viewpoint near this fall, the trail became abruptly steeper, and turned away from the stream in a series of switchbacks. The path is well constructed and well maintained through this section, so while it's hard work, it is pretty steady going.

On the day of my hike, the temperature was in the high 90's, so I was watching my water consumption. I hadn't brought as much with me on this hike as I had on Ivy Creek the day before.

After a half mile of the switch backs, the trail leveled out and turned a corner. A very large bolder - the size of a small hill - blocks any view of the stream and the second set of falls.

To get to the next view, the path follows this staircase up a hundred feet or so. And I suppose somewhere up there, there comes a view of the falls, and the trail continues on up the ridge until it finally intersects Limberlost, and ultimately, Skyline Drive.

But I will have to save those experiences for another day. As I reached this point in the hike, I'd consumed half of my water. Rather than risk any difficulties in the heat, I turned back reluctantly - I'll have to have another go at this one later in the Fall.

On the way back to the trailhead, I stopped frequently to enjoy the stream and falls. As I wrote about a few weeks back, I nearly stepped on a water snake basking on a rock near the stream, luckily it wasn't a copperhead or moccasin, I would have been bit.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whiteoak Canyon - a moderate day hike

This is the third and final of the three day hikes I explored during my recent vacation - Whiteoak Canyon. I chose the downslope approach, which requires a drive on the eastern border of the Park. You pass Old Rag Mountain (photo here, and there is a blog entry in November 2007) on the way to the trailhead.

The hike is included in the "Easy Day Hikes" book, but it is listed as the most difficult. If you do the whole route, it entails climbing up or down the entire ridge of the Park...as with many of the SNP hikes, this means either starting with a downward or upward climb, and reversing on the way back.

Here is a part of the review from the "ajheatwole.com" site (review of the route starting from Skyline Drive):

"Whiteoak Canyon has been called the "scenic gem" of Shenandoah, which is an understatement. It's a place of wild beauty—a shady place of great boulders under tall hemlocks, of cascades and pools and sheer rock walls, and a steep gorge with six waterfalls. The trail, from the Drive to the first (and highest) waterfall, is in good condition, and the walking is easy. But farther down it gets steeper, and parts of it are rough and rocky.

As you might expect, this has always been one of the most popular places in the Park. Long before there was a Park, Whiteoak Canyon was the principal playground for the guests at Skyland. At that time the first falls could be reached by road. At the top of the falls were a bridge, a dam, a swimming pool, and bath houses. This spot was the scene of picnics and barbeques throughout the summer. Now the top of the falls has partially returned to its original wild state. But its popularity continues. The parking area holds 40 cars; on summer weekends you'll find the parking area full, and the canyon disappointingly crowded."

After parking at the trailhead - on Friday morning, there were about 10 cars in the lot - the route crosses private property on the way to the trailhead. Once there, at the eastern entry, there is a gently sloping walk for about 3/4 miles. At first, the trail crosses stream beds, sometimes on bridges like this one - some of the streams are dry and others have water in them.

Hiking in the woods along these streambeds reminds me of so many other hikes - even Yosemite - but during this hike I also remembered a short walk to a waterfall in the Black Forest of Germany. I was with a group tour heading to Lucerne and we'd stopped for lunch (and most of the others were led to a cuckoo clock shop).

My plan was to hike the whole canyon and catch all of the falls - there are many in this canyon, some of the most scenic ones in the Park.

This last photo for the day is of a small ford of the stream - the trail across leads to another wilderness route through the forest. From here, the trail begins to climb more steeply, while the stream bubbles and gurgles over rocks and through pools, as gradually you come to the first of the falls.
I'll continue the review of this hike in tomorrow's entry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bees Knees

While we were at the Farmers' Market on Saturday, we saw a honey vendor who'd brought part of the hive along. Mary needed a refill, so she bought a small jar, while I studied the bees.

There are a number of folks doing honey products in the Luray area, I know of at least three operations. One is about 2 miles from us, and I met the guy last year. When we talked about his enterprise, he told me, "My bees probably get into your neighborhood gathering pollen, but that is at the far end of their range."

It's a little known fact, but bees fly 50,000 miles to produce a pound of honey.

These farmers have their operation a few miles north of Luray, near Pass Run. That means they may actually visit the fields of Valley Star Farm, which I wrote about last week.

At the Page County Heritage Festival, coming up next month in Luray, there will likely be several of these bee hive displays...there will be other things, like apple butter making demonstrations and so on, some things to look forward to...

The queen is in the second shot of this hive - she has a little red dot on her back. But the phone cam quality is not great, but if you click on the photo she is near the center of the shot.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

North Mountain Vineyard - a Sunday outing

On Sunday, for a treat, we decided to head over to North Mountain Vineyard in Mauertown. I guess that would be a 30 mile drive from Stanley; we decided to cut through the GW National Forest to Edinburgh, and then follow US 11 north to the town. It had been a few years since we’d been here, and we knew that the ownership had changed in the meantime.

Here is an example of the reviews I found on-line about North Mountain…
“Follow romantic and historic country roads into the Northern Shenandoah Valley to discover an enchanting winery nestled in a beautiful vineyard! North Mountain vineyard and winery welcomes the visitor to the heartwarming experience of award winning Virginia wines: Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Claret, Mountain Sunset, and Sweet Caroline's Blush.”

My recollection was of a wonderful setting, with an approach through farms and orchards into the vineyard itself. Another fond thought was of bringing Gracie, the border collie, here when she was only a year old. After our tasting, she got to play ball out by the picnic grounds, shown in one of the pictures here.

During our Sunday visit, we enjoyed making our way through the day’s wine list, and I decided to go for a tasting of one of the reserve wines, a cabernet franc. We liked the vidal and the cabernet franc, and I would be inclined to agree with the reviewer above about the Chardonay – even though I am not a fan of that variety – and say that North Mountain's is a good wine.

After we had a vineyard snack of brie and jam, we bought a mixed case that included some specialties, including an Octoberfest vintage and a blush wine, which I plan to serve with some grilled pork very soon. At the vineyard, they have a variety of locally made cheeses to offer, which were very tempting. On another day we’ll try them.

Another memory from a past visit was an apple wine called Pippin that the previous owner made. It was an eclectic choice, but we used it during the Fall (warmed with a cinnamon stick) for Thanksgiving, and then in the winter for mulling. The new owner continued the tradition of using the apple wine, only with an innovation, blending it with grape wine. So it is still a treat – and for him, I hope it is more commercially viable than apple wine alone.

Speaking of the wine maker, John, we had some time to chat with him, as we were late visitors. We told him of past visits and he told us about some of the changes the place has gone through as it has grown over the years. Everything has come along very well, Mary and I agreed, and North Mountain is everything you might expect from a vineyard visit – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit.

And there is one last treat to mention – an annual Oktoberfest Wein Festival that is coming up on October 4! Here is the blurb from the NorthMountainVineyard.com site:

“Annual Oktober Wein Fest and German Heritage Day!
Featuring the grand German Band The Continentals of Washington, D.C., for your listening and dancing pleasure!
Sample authentic German food, potato salad according to Oma's recipe, sausages, and red cabbage! Sit in the wine tent and sing along with the German band, dance, and enjoy! Our German heritage interpretor is ready to explore with you the German heritage of the Shenandoah Valley. Local artisans display unique crafts and foods. Festival admission fee includes souvenir wine glass, wine tasting, and entertainment. Rain or shine, 11am - 5pm.”

Monday, September 22, 2008

Scarecrow and a yellow moon

Scarecrow and a yellow moon,
And pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town,
King harvest has surely come.

-King Harvest, The Band *

The county fairs have begun, and all of the fresh local produce is showing up in the Luray Farmers' Market, which we visited on Saturday. Mary's been going for most of the season, but with the weather turning cool and my pool opening chores curtailed, I tagged along this time.

The Luray market is really a nice time - you see the local wares there, not just food, and there is usually live entertainment. Those excellent mini donuts they had the last time I was in weren't available this time, but we've begun to recognize some of the folks that are regulars, and they are starting to recognize us as well.

This week we went right to the farm stand to pick up fresh vegetables. We were delighted that there was still sweet corn and we picked up six ears. At this little stand, there was a variety of other foods as well, and they are part of the foodroutes.org system, that seeks to revitalize the local food system. I will spend some time on a future post about this concept, which talks about family farms, sustainability, and other issues - all pretty much current topics.

So the photos today are of the items for sale at the market - corn, squash, and green beans among them. Finally, a shot of some of the goodies we took home with us - peppers, squash, and tomatoes.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Ivy Creek - an Easy Day Hike

During my vacation a few weeks ago, I did three day hikes in the Shenandoah National Park. Today I will write about the second one, Ivy Creek, which begins from the Ivy Creek Overlook in the southern district of the Park. This sign about the AT greets you at the trailhead as you begin the 2.8 mile hike, which is also reviewed in the Easy Day Hikes book.

Here's a review from the ajheatwole.com (a good, comprehensive, on-line guide to the Park, by the way) site: "Take the A.T. at the south end of the overlook. You will reach the crest of a knob about half a mile from the overlook, then descends for 0.6 mile. There, with the Drive less than 100 yards uphill on the right, the trail swings left, descends, then swings right and crosses Ivy Creek—1.4 miles from the start. It follows the bank of the stream, climbing easily for nearly 0.3 mile before it swings away to the left. I find this miniature canyon delightful. The A.T. is mostly a ridgetop trail; this is the only place in the Park where it follows a stream. "

On the day I did this, the weather was hot and sunny - well into the 90's, and it was a little humid. So I had plenty of water with me. The destination here is a little pool on the creek in the canyon, I knew I could expect a refreshing cool breeze there and was looking forward to it. As the hike traces the AT its entire length, this was fairly easy going on a well maintained trail, and there was interesting scenery along the way, as in these two photos.
Here's a view of the pool that is the hike's destination. This is an out-and-back hike, so you get here, and you turn around. For that reason, and one other, I'm not sure I would recommend this hike for anyone but the most desparate for exercise.
A big negative is that you are never more than a quarter mile from Skyline Drive, and even on a Thursday when school is in, the sound of motorcycles invades the forest. Because of the proximity to big East Coast cities, the Park and Skyline Drive is practically over run by riders who come out for a relatively safe, scenic drive.
They are entitled to their recreation too, but the bikes are loud, and you pretty much hear them throughout the Park on any stretch of the AT.
As I walked back, as often happens on these hikes, a new viewpoint presented itself. The viewing angle inbound completely obscured this break in the trees and the overlook; but here it was opening up to the horizon coming back in the other direction. This view is to the Southwest, and it is a reminder of all that makes SNP a great recreation area - mountains and woods, and a view from the heights.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pool Chores

The chores that I do during the pool open season extend beyond managing Dude, our 'bot. We maintain this blue "solar blanket" in the pool during the week, which passively transfers heat to the water but also retains some of it over night. It also helps keep out some of the leaf litter - but not all of it.

That's the first step on Saturdays, to take this thing off of the pool, working carefully not to dump any extra dirt in while you are doing it.

I should mention that there are other solar methods to heating the pool, but all of them are passive, and may not be effective for our application because of the trees and partial shade. Not to mention how much space they take up - the pool area isn't very large in the first place.

The next step for me is clean these filter baskets in the returns.
This step actually takes place after the robot is already at work. I wear rubber gloves for this, as shown - there is usually a host of dead bugs in the basket, sometimes live ones. I recently wrote about rescuing a toad, and I have seen ring-necked snakes around the pool. So the gloves are a little precaution in case I run into something very much alive and angry.

Just a note about the baskets. I learned early on to hold on to them carefully when emptying them. The slope of the hill is not clear in this picture - it's pretty steep, and a dropped basket will run all the way down to the road.

There are a couple of other elements of the chores that I haven't mentioned - mostly dealing with another filter nearer the pump, and the flushing process for after we've had a lot of rain. All totaled, the activities take about an hour. I usually take care of them while Mary heads off to the Luray Farmers' Market.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Dude at Work

Thanks to everyone who voted in our Pool ‘bot Naming Poll – in the primary voting as well as the just completed finalist poll. Looks official – “Dude” is our ‘bot’s new name!

In honor of Dude, today’s entry will unfold the process I go through on most weekends when the pool is open (generally May through September), focused today on the robot-oriented activities. In a second post I will talk about some of the other aspects of weekly pool maintenance – at least what I have learned so far.

We didn’t buy this ‘bot, by the way, he came with the deal. He has spent most of the last two years in hibernation, but seems none the worse for wear and tear. Uncle D saw him and told us that we had a good model, then put the Dude right to work. He said, “You’ll enjoy watching him, and eventually, you will name him.” Uncle D is wise.

Dude is a straightforward, functional machine. He’s mostly plastic, with a few metal items in his internal organs and for structural support. There is a blue power cord, connected in such a way that you can actually lift the ‘bot with it. This connects to a transformer that plugs into the power source, while we keep this unit away from the pool, it can withstand rain and is for the most part waterproof.

There is a hatch where the Dude’s filter bag is installed, accessible as shown in the photo here. Fortunately, the Dude is not sensitive to strangers viewing these parts, and if he knew I was publishing this photo, I know he would say, “Get a good look, city boy!”

All kinds of stuff ends up in the bag, mostly leaf litter and the like, some dirt – but sometimes there are insect carcasses, and last weekend there were two or three dead night crawlers in there. I simply remove the bag and dump it out in the yard.

Next step is to reinstall the bag, close up the ‘bot, plug him in, and lower him into the pool, as seen in the step-by-step photos here. Then we turn on the machine and it’s off to the races.
The ‘bot’s vacuum generates enough suction that he evens climbs the walls of the pool, and I must admit it is very pleasant when he comes up to greet me this way. I generally let him work on the pool for two hours in the morning before we put Dude away.

A final note on footwear during these chores. A lot of your outdoor recreational activities require special gear and pool chores are no exception. I’ve got my Foot Joys for golf and my Vasques for hiking. For the pool action I chose some Croc knock-offs that I picked up in the Outer Banks last year. Ankle-high white socks are optional.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

German Fast Food

When I was in Berlin in the ‘80’s, we used to love a couple of German fast food items that you could find in little street side stands called imbisses. Now there is a little stand in Leesburg at the old Mighty Midget kitchen where you can find this food - we stopped in after the cabin work day Sunday.

One item was called currywurst – a beef sausage cut into slices, topped with a curry-ketchup sauce, and served with fries. This was served hot, so it was great to find an open imbiss after a night-time bar hopping expedition – even better if it was cold out, and you were near the bus stop back to base.

As second item was called doner kebaps (this is often spelled in many different ways). The origin of this item is Turkish – overseas, the stands were mostly in the style of a storefront diner rather than a little food stand. This is because they used a rotisserie as part of the preparation and I guess there wasn’t room in a little imbiss stand for it.

Whenever some of us get together from the old days, these delicacies are sure to be one of the topics of conversation. I often associate the food with an event for some reason – the currywurst from the little stand near the train station where we caught overnights down to Frankfurt, or at the one that was exactly halfway between the Irish Harp and Nada’s – two nightspots we went to.

Or the doners from the little joint up the street from Tempelhof, walking distance from base, where you might head late night after a swing shift. Or the one at the Alt Mariendorf metro station, where we would call for carry out – surprising a helpless one-person kitchen with an order for 50 sandwiches! When Mary and I visited in 2001, we grabbed a doner in the Potsdam train station before heading out to Sansoucci.

The doner stand in Leesburg is near the train station and they have a website at “doener-usa.com”. Here are some photos - of bratwurst, currywurst, and the style of doner they prepare. Seating is beer garden style (their pamphlet hospitably and correctly spells it "biergarten") and they have Warsteiner on tap. Take this as a recommendation!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Valley Star Farm

We had a work day at the cabin Sunday…very likely the hottest day of the year for it. Honestly couldn’t get much done in the heat and humidity – it reminded me of the old days in the south, waiting for a hurricane. I know so many of my friends across the country were dealing with a storm this weekend, and our thoughts are with you.

More on the chores we were taking on later this week. On the way home, we made two stops I want to write about today and tomorrow – one, about a farm in Luray that has a pumpkin patch, and two, about a doner kebap stand in Leesburg – doners are a fast food that originated in Turkey, that is very popular in the large German cities such as Berlin. My friends from those days will regale any willing listener with stories about our adventures looking for a good doner.

The Valley Star Farm in Luray opens a “pumpkin patch” every year at this time – starting September 5 and running through the beginning of November. It’s a couple of miles north of Luray on US 240, you can’t miss the pumpkin patch signs up that way. As shown in the photos, they have a ton of varieties to choose from, and many decorative and edible squashes as well. Sometimes there is other produce, although the sweet corn is over by the time they open. Yesterday they had McIntosh and Fuji apples.

There is also honey, fruit trees – potted or fresh-dug, mums, corn stalks, and straw. For family fun, they set up a corn maze, and they have four or five goats with a shed and some climbing rails, which is a lot of fun to take a look at - seen in the background of the photo with the big pumpkins. The farm sells Christmas trees later in the year, and these fields are the main thing you’ll see as you drive up. They have a URL at valleystarfarm.com – there is a photo gallery along with a Google Map.

Here are some highlights from our stop yesterday. It’s a beautiful place, reminds me of the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley. The mountains in the background of these photos are Shenandoah National Park.

For Sue and Nancy, this is the same farm we stopped at last year during your visit.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


In case there is any question about who I am cheering for tonight - the game is on at 8pm!

These photos are of the Tommy Trojan statue on the USC campus, and the Marching Trojans at an event in July '08.
Fight on 'SC!