12 September 2014

Summer temperatures

Below are the official statistics from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia:

* Blacksburg, Bluefield, and Lewisburg never had a 90 degree day the entire summer!
* Roanoke has had more 90-degree days in September (2) than they had in August (1)!

July 2, 2014 - One of the hottest days of the year for most locations in the Blacksburg CWA.
Danville - 97
Roanoke - 96
Lynchburg - 94
Lewisburg - 89
Blacksburg - 89
Bluefield - 86

The only two uncomfortably hot spells at Stratheden this summer were the last few days of June continuing into early July and early September. They were stinking hot, humid and still with even the nights being uncomfortable and lows sometimes as high as 70F.

There is a fine fog at the moment (6:40 p.m.), a function of a fresh cold front which began its passage yesterday. The forecast low for tomorrow night is 53F. Some species of trees began changing into their autumnal wardrobe a fortnight ago despite the heatwave - these cool temperatures may accelerate the action and bring a very early fall. Hopefully the colors will be brilliant and long lasting. Stay tuned.

10 September 2014

Impending Storm

Several friends have emboldened me to post more of my 'arty' photographs herein. Some will have been posted on my FaceBook page and I apologize in advance for those who read it, too.

This was taken a month or so ago about two miles from the farm at the terminus of Canning Factory Road.

Please click on it to see it at the proper size. May it bring you visual joy.

05 September 2014

More Cats

MommaKat and her litter came into the household as fosters for the Santa Fe Humane Society eight years ago, nearly nine.In theory, all the felines were to be returned to the shelter when either two months old or two pounds. MommaKat was still thoroughly feral and had never allowed a human closer than about eight feet - they would have 'euthanized' her as unadoptable had she been returned.

In the meantime, as the 60 days passed, two male kittens really shone in terms of personality, the big guy and the ginger colored brother. Well, as far as the shelter was concerned, those two just didn't survive. Hah! Grover grew to 19 pounds and Chetworth Del Gato to more than 17 of unadulterated lean cat muscle. MommaKat was a superb mother and empowered her babies with all the skills they would need to prosper in the world.

MommaKat was still skittish when she came to Stratheden Farm. Always more affectionate in winter, she was distant the remainder of the year. Until about 18 months ago, that is. She is still nervous about strangers but a lot more confident with me. Here she is last night, my delightful dinner date. A dear neighbor gifted me with a passel of tomatoes, encompassing three varieties, all delicious in their own way. Another fine soul gifted half a dozen home made brats. With some buns and sweet onion mustard, it was a meal fit for a king (and his cat).

Here is her son, Chetworth del Gato, who used to guest blog herein when so moved. Now almost nine years old, he is semi-retired and sniffs too much catnip while he watches too much cable TV. Last night he was transfixed by a National Geographic Special on" Large Cats of the African Savannas." All day he has been imitating their poses... he needs to get a life.

03 September 2014

Cool Cats

The dogs cats have enjoyed the relatively cool summer, in fact, one of the coolest on record. There was a hot ten day period in early June that had everyone concerned it presaged a scorching summer ... the only other hot spell is now, after summer has normally ended in the Blue Ridge. Below are the official National Weather Service figures:

Last summer was non-stop rain from the dawn of the year into mid-August. I believe there were only two spells of three consecutive dry days in the first seven months of 2013. Then a drought came on. There was no happy medium in 2013.

This year has been more moderate/typical than last, thankfully. Nonetheless, Floyd county was on the Federal Drought Register for several weeks before the heavens opened and erased the drought. The pasture is excellent for this time of year and the trees are less stressed than in the dry period. Some trees, especially dogwoods and maples, are beginning to gain their autumnal coloration already, strange not just because it is so early but because of the day temperatures being in the 80s.

An astute reader might inquire why the village of Floyd is not featured on these charts. The reason is simple: there has not been an official observer in the county since the last one joined the armed forces in 1941.

I trust your summer has been equally temperate, dear readers.

30 August 2014

Like a Phoenix

Here is the new addition to Stratheden Farm: a Yanmar Sx3100 tractor with a front loader and underbelly mower. I had been looking for several years for small tractor that was fit for harder work than most and had a full line of durable attachments. There were relatively few contenders. A local business became a Yanmar dealer this year and a couple of months ago I ventured over to kick tires and geek out.

It turns out that Yanmar manufacturers most John Deere tractors; they've made diesel engines since 1930. Although a Japanese company, the factory that builds them is located in Georgia. Not only American made but parts available quickly. This model had the two required add-ons: an underbelly mower and a front loader (aka "curved boom loader"). There was a factory discount of $2,000 on the tractor itself and further discounts on the bucket and mower. Then John, proprietor of T&E Small Engines, told me about the zero percent financing. Oh my.

My other tractor, a Ford 1710 from about 1983 is still running well. I've searched for a front loader and could only locate hard-used models in the $3,000-4,500 range, worth almost as much as the tractor itself. It has a John Deere bush hog mower, nice for clearing brush but a not very good quality mow on open grass. Additionally, they are probably the most dangerous piece of equipment on a farm for two reasons: (1) the whirling blades and PTO shaft and (2) the change of balance of the tractor [they weigh a lot]. I'll be honest, I'm scared of bush hogs and operate with extreme caution. That bush hog mounted on the Ford moves the center of gravity far to the rear and makes it prone to raising up when going uphill, a dangerous position.

The under-belly mower on the Yanmar is not as tough as the old Deere bush hog but it is safer in every way. It changes balance for the better by lowering the center of gravity and adding weight between the axles (rather than behind with a bush hog). The PTO shaft is between the tractor chassis and the mower. almost impossible to come into contact with it, even in the unfortunate circumstance of a roll-over.

Yanmar thought outside the box and brought tractor technology up-to-date. For instance, instead of two controls for the front loader, there is a single arm, well positioned where the driver doesn't have to reach for it. But perhaps most revolutionary, a HYDROSTATIC transmission. Yep. No gear shifting! Put it in either high or low range then press the pedal and it is moving. Press the pedal harder to go faster, just like a car. To stop, take your foot off the pedal (if on a grade, the brake may be necessary, too). To reverse, still no gears - put your foot on the reverse pedal. This luxury will take some getting used to-

One last comment and you will be spared further tractor-geeking: if the diesel fuel runs out, it is easy to re-start after fuelling unlike the torture required to bleed injectors on any other diesel I have known. This work horse should last thirty plus years if past Yanmar performance is a good forecaster. and my back should last longer since there is a front loader to perform many tasks...

18 May 2014

Winter kill et all

     Yesterday was the annual community flea market hosted by Citizen's Coop (the provider of telephone, internet and cable in Floyd county). Lots of junque being sold by folks who bought it in a fever at the market last year, took it home and then wondered why they bought it. My attendance was due solely to two women who sell fine quality nursery plants; restrainer meself and only paid $1.25 for three heirloom tomato plants. The conversation of those inspecting the plants was intriguing and validated the effects of winter on the flora here at Stratheden Farms.

     Several silver haired ladies noted they lost all of their crape myrtles; the one here sustained damage on a branch by branch basis, some unscathed and others dead. About half of the roses here were frozen to death, even the miniatures which are very cold tolerant. The hyrangea died to to the ground but seems to be reviving from the roots. The butterfly bush (Buddleai davidii) which was huge, old and well established has perished entirely. On the other hand, the viburnums are superb this year and the fruit trees look quite happy.

     This same conversation had been held over lunch with two farmer neighbors, both of whom noted the same destructiveness of the winter. Four and five winters back were colder, more sustained cold and deep laying snow but had little deleterious effects on the plants. What has prospered this year, alas and alack, are the poison ivy and wild briars, which are appearing everywhere.

    Since no herbicides are used at Stratheden Farms, yours truly mechanically controls weeds. Normally small weeds (such as Carolina horse nettles, Solanum carolinense) are cut down by the hoe and larger ones such as privet are extracted by using welder's gloves. Due to the profusion of undesirables this spring, something faster is required: the brush scythe. There are at least two forms of blades for scythes: reaping and brush. Thanks to friend Joseph P., a top quality Austrian brush blade was purchased last autumn on eBay for less than 50% of the normal price. Brush blades are stouter, straighter and shorter - they are hell on briars, Scottish thistles, blackberries, milk weed, etc., basically, all the larger invading species.

The top blade is a reaping or grass blade, the lower a brush blade.

Despite the cold winter, the compost piles proceeded as normal. The manures (chicken and cow) had become fine powders and even the fair-sized bits of wood decayed nicely. The reason was the profusion of mycelium, the white thread-like structures in the photograph. Should you think that this is inconsequential, the largest living organism on earth is a 2,400 acre mycelium in Oregon. There is strong evidence that the presence of them in the soil is a key to healthy plants.

One last plant which is prospering: the poppies, great cheer in the garden and a color counterpoint to the blue iris, which are also blooming in abundance this year.

And this, dear reader, brings you up to date on the flora of the farm.

09 May 2014

Dig it

A dear friend from The West paid the farm the honor of a repeat visit last month. He was able to stay for more than a week and we pursued many activities on and about the farm.

One day was especially nice weather and we were enjoying a stroll when I mentioned using a metal detector to find artifacts from previous residents of the farm, probably in the the last half of the 19th century. There appears to be a large area of scattered trash below the house, extending at least as far down hill as the small garden (where the debris was first spotted when doing the initial tilling five years and some months ago).

He was excited about hunting with the metal detector so as Mr. Fuzzy operated the device, Martin wielded the excavating tool (i.e., a shovel) with aplomb. In not much more than an hour, we had found cast iron, glass, ceramic and charcoal. The most interesting find thus far at Stratheden is the oval shaped ring at center; it is a silver plated harness guide, an object likely owned by a wealthy person. How it became junk on the farm is a mystery. The shot shell head can be dated fairly closely by the manufacturer's lifespan - it must be before 1911. Mr. Fuzzy has found more cast iron bits previously and has to wonder how so many cast iron pots and pans came to an untimely end.

A local iron smelter was operated from 1852 until about the Civil War. I have to wonder if these were created there rather than imported into the county. The local iron had an unusual level of copper and thus these bits could be analyzed to see if there is a match.

Who knows what will be found next? Adventure awaits at every corner of the farm.