26 June 2016


Even after more than seven years, friends, both old and new, politely inquire as to whether Mr Fuzzy misses his old digs in New Mexico. Except for dear friends, green chile, and the wonderful home designed by Malcolm Worby, the answer is simple: not at all. My home here is nestled into  the forest like a babe in its mother's arms but my open view southward is to the horizon. In the winter, when the forest is without leaves, Buffalo Mountain, about 20 miles away, is easily seen. The clouds are every bit as beautiful here, and the iconic flower of the Southwest, the yucca, naturalizes here very nicely.

Wildlife abounds on the farm, especially deer and turkeys, both sometimes making themselves pests. Eagles are seen every once in a while, saw one riding the currents yesterday. The sound of frogs and forest insecta are literally music to my ears at night. Here is a photo of a doe and her twins, taken by my old friend, Gary, who is visiting.

No desire to return to New Mexico whatsoever. I love it here.

18 June 2016


After a cool and wet spring, lasting into mid-June, the rains suddenly halted and old Sol reigned supreme. The days were clear, hot, and relatively low humidity. This break in the weather came just in time for haying- the grasses were mature, dry, ready to harvest. A high wind might have laid them down, ruining all.

   With a lot of assistance from my neighbor, we worked on both his hay and mine. My role was kicking the hay, the process after the mowing and before raking into wind rows. The kicking scatters the hay so it dries well. The days were hot and windy so the drying process proceeded very quickly. It looks like the week long heat spell allowed almost everyone to bale their hay. My yields were very good, maybe a record, we'll see when the bales are counted.
Kicker at work behind me
   After baling, the grass is tender, its leaves shredded makes for moisture loss and with no cover, the roots become hot and dehydrate readily. The heat hung on days after the last bales were tied, causing some amount of worry. Then two days ago, an unforecast large storm cell drifted over the county and dropped 1.25" here at Stratheden Farms (over three inches in Roanoke, enough to cause flooding). The thirsty ground absorbed nearly all.
   Then yesterday, another quarter of an inch fell and about the same today. The pasture, garden and farmer are all content.
view from the Blue Ridge Parkway today

01 June 2016

Yard (sale) & Gardens

One of the major cultural landmarks of this region is the huge flea market held down the road thirty miles in Hillsville on Memorial Day weekend. Purported to draw 500,000 potential buyers, the effect of the sale radiates outward through adjoining counties. Along State Highway 221, from Roanoke to Hillsville, for 70 miles, every farm house and parking lot has folks trying to dispose of junk without making the trip to the dump- by making it someone else's junk. Just a walking distance away from the farm, the Falling Branch Methodist church has a good flea market; Stratheden Farm doesn't need anymore junque but there are always a few cakes and pies for sale, made by ladies old enough to know how to make them from scratch. Mrs. Sower's German Chocolate Coconut Pound Cake (for $6.00 - the ingredients cost more than that!) went back to Stratheden to be destroyed at leisure.

This is gardening season, The little garden, although having been tilled twice already, was about to be overtaken by weeds/grasses and needed another turning before more seedlings could be transplanted.

Much of the garden is still vacant, most seedlings still not yet of adequate size to go into the ground. The flea beetles have already attacked tomato seedlings as they sit on the patio. A Japanese beetle was also spied - and destroyed. It seems several weeks too early for these destructive pests.

Writing must cease and weeding must begin. Until the next post, best wishes to you.

27 May 2016

Its Summer!

How do you know its summer in Floyd? Three dramatic additions to the landscape:
1. daylilies in bloom (Stella d'Oro here)
2, peonies in bloom
3. Fireflies (or lightning bugs, depending on where in the South you grew up) are dancing all evening in the pastures.

It has rained twelve of the last fourteen days and of course, the skies have been gray. Mostly unseasonable cool temperatures, with morning lows about 50F.

Tuesday and Wednesday were delightfully sunny, stimulating the peonies and early daylilies to explode into bloom after two weeks of holding their buds closed, awaiting just the right ray of sunlight.

Mr. Fuzzy spent two weekends ago with good 18th century friends participating in The Raid at Martin's Station, a recreation of the devastating Cherokee raids on the frontier in the 1770s. The weather was clear and dry, always good since dragging wet canvas tents home in the back of the car ceases to be fun very quickly. The temperatures were surprisingly cold, with the Sunday morning reading being 37F.

The entire event was a fine example of "I get by with a little help from my friends." Having only packed one thin blanket (the three day forecast was terribly wrong), the only way the nights were passable was thanks to loans of blankets from Bill B., Bill C. and George M. Thank you so much my friends, it would have been miserable for my old bones without your kindness.

Due to a single narcissistic personality, the hunters' camp crew found other places to lay their bed rolls, thus dispersing a long standing community of talented re-enactors. One feature of the old camp was gourmet meals, sadly lacking now. Mr. Comer provided your humble correspondent with a much needed black and tan one evening at the new camp and a communal dinner of no mean quality was devoured. Lisa C's strawberry desert was delectable in the extreme. Walking back to my tent, Dolly inquired if I might like a bite of rhubarb pie. Well, do bears have ticks? REAL rhubarb pie, no other fruits. Oh my, the ecstasy after each bite! Thank you so much.

The cultural life in tiny Floyd is always a source for amazement. A few nights ago, The Jacksonville Arts Center hosted two Irish musicians for some wonderful traditional music. Its fair to say everyone present had a fine time listening to the fiddle and accordion duo. He was also a great storyteller in the Irish tradition.

12 May 2016


Despite the odd winter which cycled from frigid to warm throughout the season, it appears that relatively few plants were seriously damaged. A prolonged and very warm spell in December caused some iris to break dormancy and send up leaves. Despite nights in the low single digits, the leaves endured and now have produced some spectacular blooms, both in size and number. Its difficult to appreciate from the image but the deep purple/blue iris blooms are the size of my hand.

The wild iris have also prospered this year. The common blue iris (Iris Virginica) is opening all over the farm, adding those intense touches of blue here and there.

A farm buddy down the road gave me a five gallon bucket load of yellow bog iris (Iris pseudacorus) from his field two years ago. Considered an invasive pest in many areas, these were planted in the "it won't hold water pond" fro whence they are unlikely to escape. Bless his heart, Warren has since died after a valiant battle with cancer - his iris will remind me of our friendship year after year. 

The grasses and attendant weeds are also thriving. After lubricating every grease fitting on the riding mower, it is back in service for the season. Although carrying the Sears brand, it was made by Husqvarna and has been a durable performer under difficult conditions here on the steep landscape. Its main use is around the house, under trees, and on slopes too steep to safely take the big tractor. The wee spreader is handy for applying lime and fertilizer in spot applications.

The Yanmar continues to exceed expectations. The underbelly mower was lubricated, belt checked and remounted tot he tractor (you cannot plow snow with it mounted). Theoretically it is a mower, not a bush hog, but it will whack a fair sized locust with aplomb.

The seedlings are rocketing upward. About five hours were spent yesterday in transplanting wee seedlings i their Jiffy-Pots into 4" pots.

Summer is just around the corner - what will it bring? Wet? Dry? Hot or cold? Or a real surprise, might it be normal?

04 May 2016

Daily Deluge

"In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours." Mark Twain, speech delivered at the New England Society's Seventy-First Annual Dinner, New York City, Dec. 22, 1876.

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg (Virginia) announced that our area was in the first stages of a drought just ten days ago. April was exceptionally dry in a month when spring rains are more typical. After a cold beginning, the month became unseasonably warm. The one exceptional night of 21F (-6C) produced widespread damage on Stratheden's flora. Even the grass in the pastures had growing tips killed. Several small trees that I planted 3-6 years ago and were flourishing had all their brand new leaves frozen. All looked bleak but in the last week, it appears all chlorophyll laden residents of the farm, large and small, have recovered without long term damage. Perhaps the hay yield will be normal.

freeze damaged Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

My wonderful neighbor came by several weeks ago with his tractor mounted tiller and in about 15 minutes, turned all of the large garden. After letting it remain fallow for all of 2015, the weeds and grass roots were sufficiently large and strong as to choke the small tiller. My deepest thanks to him for saving me a couple of days of hard hand labor. The next step in the large garden is to replace the deer fencing which was damaged badly last winter, presumably by wildlife. Ten 9 foot T-posts await being pounded in to reinforce the extant posts. once that is complete, new deer fencing must be raised. Then, once the area is protected, seedlings may be set and seeds (pumpkins and squash) may be planted. The small garden is about 50% planted with the remaining area awaiting seedlings maturing in peat pots becoming large enough to transplant.

leading edge of the storm
 The farm and flower garden are in bloom. The drought seemed to be slowing the maturity of wild plants but last Saturday, the drought broke dramatically with 1.7 inches of rain, followed by a like amount on Monday. Suddenly, the ground went from being powdery dry to gooey mud. A week ago, my concern was whether garden seeds would germinate due to lack of moisture (the 75F days were otherwise perfect for germination); now the concern is whether they will damp off or drown (tomorrow's high is forecast to be only 51F, too cold for almost any seeds to germinate). As Grandfather Field said, farmers are never content with conditions.

Springtime tasks include tractor maintenance (especially greasing fittings) and the change of accoutrements. After a final pass at grading the driveway to repair the vagaries of winter's influence, the blade is now safely tucked away in the barn, hopefully for the season, replaced by the E Z Lift (the entire swap process without mashing a single finger). With it in place, it can be used in lieu of a ladder to stand on whilst pounding in the T-posts. Much more convenient (and safe) than a step ladder on uneven, soft ground.

And a sample of what is currently blooming around Stratheden Farms:
Clematis on the patio

Cranesbill geranium

Virginia Sneezeweed?
Fire Pink

Five blooms on one stalk

This iris is the size of my hand!

Peonies ready to burst with blooms

14 April 2016

Small Miracles

On this day in 2009, one of those small miracles of life on Planet Earth happened in the bedroom, much to the relief of Gypsy Girlie who was at the point of bursting. She was in great discomfort for more than a week before giving birth; she moaned frequently and it was heartbreaking to hear, knowing there was no way to ameliorate her pain.

She had come to the farm late one cold afternoon in February, so scrawny it wasn't clear she would survive. What she knew, and no one else did, was she was pregnant. For weeks she downed kibbles like there was no tomorrow, gaining weight until her figure was normal - but still she chowed down. She grew larger and larger until everyone realized she was soon to be a mother. On April 14th, over about five hours, she gave birth to five kittens, three females and two males, four orange and one dark smoke. They were christened Buster, Fred, Beatrice, Annie and Tadpole. Poor Girlie was thoroughly exhausted.