Tersa Sphinx

A very stylish and elegant moth.

This moth surprised us when we spotted it a few years ago on a crepe myrtle at our previous house in Montgomery, Alabama. It is a Tersa Sphinx. I thought it a svelte and stylish creature and grabbed the camera. It took me some time to determine what sort of moth it was. It is not considered rare but I had not seen it before or since. The caterpillars feed on catalpa and pentas among other things, and are large and green like those of many other sphinx moths. Perhaps I need to plant some host species and attract some at our current location. I would like to see one again.



Bluetooth Frustrations with Windows 10

Not our usual fare, but computer issues are a problem everyone faces.

I was recently forced to rebuild my computer due to a leaky liquid cooler (for the CPU). The new processor required a new motherboard, and since the copy of Windows 8 I was using was tied to the motherboard, I was forced to upgrade to Windows 10 as well. One of the features of the new motherboard was a built in Bluetooth transmitter. Things appeared to be working just fine for the first couple of days. The next day I attempted to use a Bluetooth game controller that I had been using the day before. It refused to connect.

This is what it should look like

I quickly discovered that as far as Windows was concerned my computer did not even have a Bluetooth transmitter. The icon was missing from the notification area of the taskbar. I continued on to Device Manager. It had entries for the Bluetooth transmitter, but claimed that the device was missing.

This led to multiple online searches for problems with Bluetooth and Windows. I discovered that several of the major Windows 10 updates caused a rash of Bluetooth issues. It did not help that the newest update (the Creator’s Update) was just starting to release and some of the troubleshooting information was targeted at that version. The suggested fixes included new drivers, older drivers, checking to see if there really is a Bluetooth transmitter, and making sure the correct services are running. None of these potential solutions worked.

After a couple of days struggling with this problem, I discovered two things. First, my computer had issues with Windows’ fast startup. Secondly, if I unplugged my computer after turning it off, Windows would find the Bluetooth transmitter when I started the computer again. Unfortunately, it would again disappear a few hours later. In the end, I found the solution to the problem on ASUS’s Republic of Gamers Forum (the motherboard manufacturer). A member of that forum, bowman9991, suggested turning off the option that allows Windows to power down the Bluetooth device to save power. This reminded me of a different problem I ran into some years ago when Windows powered down my computer’s hard drive. Several programs would promptly crash to desktop the next time they tried to access the drive. As a result I tried this solution immediately.

This screen is obtained by going to Device Manager (available in the menu produced by right clicking the start button in Windows 10), and then right clicking the Bluetooth device and selecting properties.

This was the solution to my problem. After changing this option, the Bluetooth transmitter has worked flawlessly.

I can only guess that there is some sort of incompatibility between Windows’ power saving programming and the Bluetooth transmitter (or its driver). Unplugging the computer can sometimes clear volatile memory on the computer that is preserved on a normal shutdown, and this apparently includes the power status of the Bluetooth transmitter. I will have to watch for major updates to Windows in the future. They have a habit of reverting settings to their default value. I ended up receiving the Creators Update in the middle of this process and it turned Fast Startup back on.

I cannot guarantee that this will work for you, but it would be worth trying if you are having problems with your Bluetooth transmitter disappearing. It would probably be worth checking whenever there is an issue with a device on your computer. My question is, how many perfectly good motherboards (or other hardware) have been returned or replaced as a result of this power management setting?

Eclipse Photos

Our Favorite 2 Pictures

We were pleased with the performance of our long box pinhole viewer. It looked a bit better in person than in this photo from my cellphone’s camera. This photo was taken near the peak for our location (~90%).

While it never got dark here, things did look just a bit, wrong. The light level was closer to early evening, but the sun was high in the sky and the shadows were short and crisp. It was easiest to see when you went out from inside. It simply wasn’t as bright as it should have been. We tried to capture this in a photo, but our cameras were not cooperating with us. Finally, I tried one last time in the middle of the afternoon, and the camera demanded that I raise the flash.

Look at the 1/8 second exposure it wants to use.

One of the most impressive changes we noticed was that it felt a bit cooler during the eclipse. A fact that was confirmed by the weather station (Davis Vantage VUE) that we have in the backyard. From the measurements it took, there was a temperature drop of about 8 degrees during the eclipse.

The birds didn’t seem worried.

Solar Eclipse Pinhole Viewer

The eclipse is not total here, but it is still worth looking at

The August 21 Solar Eclipse is not going to be total where we live, but it should reach about 90%. As a result, we decided to construct a pinhole viewer to watch the eclipse because even 90% should be fairly impressive.This shoebox was our first attempt. We attached a white notecard on one end of the box and cut an about 1 inch square hole on the other end. We covered this with a small piece of aluminum foil (not seen here), and then we used a pin to make a very small hole in it.We went with this much longer box (about 3 ft) because we were dissatisfied with the small size of the image produced by the shoebox. The longer length helped produce a larger image, one that seemed big enough to be useful. We added a small hole near the bottom (only cutting 3 of the 4 sides so it acts like a door) to view the image produced.We are looking forward to the eclipse on Monday. Since it won’t be total here, it can’t be ruined by a single small cloud at just the wrong time. We hope that everyone trying to view the eclipse has clear skies for their attempt.

Drying Peppers

Compressing Peppers by Drying Them

Green peppers have been one of our most successful and early crops this year. I bought plants from a local store since the ones I grow myself invariably turn out very leggy. This year I decided to concentrate on four plants planted in our raised beds on the south side of a row of tomatoes. Since tomatoes and peppers do not require pollinators, they were in tents of mosquito netting to protect them(mostly) from caterpillars and stink bugs (see Growing Tomatoes in the South). Our first flush of peppers was very nice this year. These were the biggest from three plants shown with a coffee mug for size comparison.

We generally use our peppers in chili and other dishes where they can be reconstituted from a dry state. We washed and diced them, and spread them on screens on four drying racks of our 30 year old Harvest Maid food dryer. It took two runs to get the eight peppers dried. It takes about 8 hours at 135 degrees for each batch.

We store them in jars that we vacuum pack with the jar attachment on the FoodSaver. It takes about 2 tablespoons of the dried pepper to equal an average green pepper. The jars take up much less room and keep without refrigeration.

2017 Garlic Harvest

Growing Garlic in the South

Our garlic year began early last October when we planted 48 cloves of Italian Loiacono, a soft neck variety and 24 cloves of Spanish Roja, a hard neck. These cloves all came from bulbs we had set aside to save from the 2016 harvest. We try to select the biggest and best looking bulbs to save for planting the next year’s crop.

The soft neck garlic is the most common variety found in grocery stores. It is the better keeper although it makes smaller heads. Each head has more but smaller cloves. The hard neck variety is better in colder climates due to deeper roots. It has fewer cloves in each head but the cloves are larger. The poorer keeper of the two varieties, we will use the Spanish Roja first.

We planted the individual cloves in early October into a 4 foot by 8 foot bed and covered them with about four inches of crushed leaves that we had collected with our lawnmower’s grass bag. The garlic sprouts will push right up through the crushed leaves but it will stifle most weeds.

Here in Alabama by the end of November the sprouts will be 6 to 8 inches tall and growth slows as the weather cools. In February, they will start growing again and by the last half of May are ready to be pulled. This year we started pulling them on May 21.

After pulling the plants we place them on screens out of the sun to dry. The drying will take about a month.

When the plants have dried we cut off the tops and the roots. We use a small scrub brush to remove the dirt from the root end of each bulb. This is when we decide whether a head is good enough to keep or if it is too small or damaged or for some other reason not worth using. Such discards will go into the compost pile. Now is when we set aside the heads we will use for planting in the Fall.

We finished with 43 heads of Italian Loiacono and 18 heads of Spanish Roja .

Here is the result of our 2017 harvest.

In colder climates, garlic is planted in the spring and harvested in late summer or fall. If you would like information on gardening in the north, I recommend Rural Revolution, This is one of our favorite blogs covering gardening and homesteading with archives and links covering a multidude of topics.


Growing Tomatoes in the South

Tomatoes go tent-camping

Last year we had serious problems with our tomato crop. The first tomatoes were nearly all destroyed by stink bugs and a sneak attack by tomato hornworms. We tried an experiment and managed to coax four of our not-so-determinate Rio Grande plum tomatoes into producing a second late crop. When the weather started threatening frost, we picked everything that looked like it was starting to change color and got quite a few to ripen indoors. They were not quite as good as vine-ripened but better than store-bought.

Our experiment was in buying a cot-sized mosquito net tent. This year we decided to grow 6 tomato plants split into two 4 by 8 foot beds and to cover each bed with mosquito netting. We grew Rio Grande tomatoes from seed since they had done better than our purchased Roma plants the year before. The tents let in much more sunlight than the picture makes it appear, especially down here in Alabama where sunscald can be a problem. The stink bugs we have spotted have all been crawling around on the outside of the netting and I only found two hornworms, probably from eggs laid before we got the netting up. We have picked over 20 pounds of tomatoes so far. The tomatoes are sharing space with 4 green peppers which are planted on the south side of the tomatoes. Both tomatoes and peppers can produce fruit with only the wind and an occasional shaking to spread pollen so the net does not affect the plant’s ability to set fruit.

We like to put up our tomatoes as frozen sauce. They could be canned and we have done so but for now we put them up in the freezer. For the first batch we put ten pounds of washed tomatoes through our Squeezo Strainer to take care of the seeds and peels. The Squeezo is over 35 years old but we can still find parts. So far only the rubber seal for the screen has needed to be replaced. The pulp came out nicely thick this year and two hours of simmering brought it down to a good consistency. We do not try to produce tomato paste. The time needed to produce a thick enough sauce can vary widely.

Our ten pounds of tomatoes produced four 20 ounce freezer jars of sauce. We use them in making spaghetti sauce and chili. We prefer the flavor we get from using our own frozen sauce.