Coyote howling at setting sun.

A farmer a few miles up the road told me last week that he had a calf that was born about a month prematurely.

At first he wondered if the baby would live, but in a day or two, it appeared healthy and was nursing well.

He was so enamored with the cute little calf that about three or four days after it was born he took his wife with him to check the herd so she could take a photo of the tiny creature.

When they got to the field, they found the mother but no calf so they began searching. Finally, they came upon the baby, which had been killed and eaten by coyotes.

In some areas, the coyote population seems to have leveled off during the past four or five years, but in other parts of Central and Northern Virginia it continues to explode.

The farmer in question reports that at least two females had raised within a mile of his house and during late summer he could hear the half-grown pups running, almost like dogs.

Typically, there are two females that raise pups within a mile of my house but this summer I only heard one family howling at night. Maybe the other female got killed.

If there are coyotes in your area, this is the time of year when you’ll find out. If you live near any fields or woods, just go out between sunset and 8 or 9 p.m. and listen. That’s when these animals like to howl back and forth to one another.

But just because there are no howls, don’t assume there are no coyotes. These are wary animals that seldom show themselves. Still, they are around almost everywhere, although in varying numbers.

Remember, too, that coyotes will kill and eat small dogs up to the size of a beagle. A month ago a woman just east of Richmond reported going to the back door to see a young coyote going after her dog. She managed to chase the predator off but the dog had been so badly hurt that it had to be put down.

And while coyotes will occasionally kill and eat dogs, they love cats like humans love candy.

This is the time of year when the young coyotes begin going out hunting without mama so if you live in a suburban or rural area you might want to keep a close eye on your pets.

And, as my farmer friend discovered, small and weak livestock can also be at risk. There have even been reports of coyotes going after calves as they are being born. Remember, Virginia coyotes have wolf genes in their DNA so they occasionally hunt in packs, especially maturing pups.

There seems to be a tremendous black walnut crop this year. Does this fact have any implications for the coming winter? Inquiring minds want to know so I looked up an old Indian relative.

“I have a walnut tree in my yard that is absolutely loaded with nuts this year,” I reported. Then I asked, “What does that mean?”

The old Indian thought for a moment and then replied, “That mean that soon there will be many walnuts on ground. You pick up. Not good for lawnmower. Make dull.”

Being part Indian I should have known that.

Now is the time to start harvesting walnuts because, as the old Indian said, they will be falling everywhere in the days ahead.

If you have never harvested walnuts there is not much to the job. Just pick them up and, using rubber gloves, remove the hulls (I use a claw hammer but some people just drive over them if they have a gravel driveway).

Then, scatter them out and let them dry for at least two or three weeks before you start cracking. I use a hammer and crack them on the top of a round of wood about 40 inches high.

You can’t use gloves for this because the nut fragments will be small and hard to pick up. So, expect some stain on hour hands (it will come off).

I generally crack between five and 10 quarts each fall, which I freeze. I made so many brownies last year, however, that I ran out so I’m going to crack even more this year.

Cracking walnuts takes patience because you’ll probably only get about a cup every 90 minutes. But it is also therapeutic, especially if you leave your cell phone in the house. It is a good time to think. I write a lot of columns while cracking walnuts.

Just don’t try to crack walnuts in the house. Those brittle shells fly everywhere. Out behind the meat house is where I set up shop.

Walnuts last a long time. You can collect them this fall and crack them next October if you like. I have kept some for two years and they were fine, except for tasting a little stronger.

Cracked nuts will also keep for two or three years in the freezer. I put them in quart bags and take out only a cup or two at a time (they don’t stick together).

They are great in brownies or apple cakes.

This is also the time to dry apples. Just peel, core and lay them on a metal roof (or something similar) in the sun for about 10 days, turning them over occasionally.

Then put them in thin cloth bags and hang them in a dry, airy spot.

Dried apple pie is delicious when the snow blows.

But don’t set those apple pies or apple-walnut cakes on the window sill to cool. If you do the coyotes might get them.

​Donnie Johnston:

​Donnie Johnston:

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