September days grown noticeably shorter, reminding me that winter is close. Plants flowering now are making a charge to put out seed before the frost comes. It's harvest time in southwest Wisconsin. The hard work that went into the summer garden is paying off, but there's plenty yet to do to get ready for winter.
In the garden, tomato vines are turning yellow, and the last few green tomatos are trying to ripen. The potato vines have long since died, and it's time to dig for the spuds which will help feed me through the cold winter. Carrots, too, need to be dug and stored, although I will leave some in the ground, covered with a bed of dry leaves. This way, I can dig fresh carrots until spring; after the ground freezes they will even get sweeter.
The canna lilies and dahlias must be dug and their bulbs stored in a cool, dry place. There is more time for this, though, before the ground freezes in December.
Many of the long pods of the now-yellowed runner bean plants have already dried and turned brown. I'll put the bean pods in brown paper shopping bags and hang them to dry in a cool, dark closet. I'll shell them in the spring before I plant the black and purple beans.
It's time too to harvest the squash, pumpkins and gourds. I like to cure them in the sun for a few days before I store them in the basement for winter.
The yellowed leaves of the wild grape vines are falling to the ground, exposing ripe, dark purple grapes that hang in clumps for all to use.
Soon I'll make a trip to Turkey Ridge, the local organic orchard, to get a couple of bushels of apples and a few gallons of fresh apple cider. What would fall be without this special tasty treat? I'll cook some of the apples down to can as sauce, and use a jar at a time through the winter. Others will be used in pies or apple crisp in the months to come. The rest I will slowly nibble away until they are gone, sometime in February.
As I am preparing for winter, so is the local wildlife. Gray and fox squirrels are busy harvesting walnuts and hickory nuts, burying them just under the ground so they can dig them up as they need them. Chipmunks and deer mice are gathering acorns and weed seeds to stash in hollow tree limbs or a hole in the ground. These little piles will be handy when deep snow covers the ground, and with luck, the animals won’t go hungry.
On occasion I hear reports from people who have seen a panther-like cat in these hills. Most often their description of the big cat includes a long, thick tail. However, I spoke to an Amish farmer the other day who said he spotted a cat about the size of a small dog, with a short tail. Based on this description, it probably was a bobcat.
Various subspecies of bobcat are found in many forested and desert areas of North America. The cats are often spotted in the northern third of Wisconsin, but very rarely seen this far south in the state. The adult bobcat looks like an overgrown housecat – about 20 pounds and 36” long - with very large feet and a short (6-1/2”) white-tipped tail.
Like all wildcats, bobcats are extremely good hunters, quick and agile and unmatched in their ability to stalk prey. Through the summer months, they catch whatever birds and small mammals they can. In winter their diet consists of snowshoe hares, grouse, squirrels, and cotton-tailed rabbits.
I’ve never seen one of these elusive cats around here, but I hope to someday. Until then, I enjoy hearing stories from those who have been lucky enough to cross paths with them.
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