31 May 2009

Just a quickie, my dear

Quick hello, that is... more to do today than time to do it! Turning this over to Chetworth...

Hi, all! Mama really loves me. She threw Jack out the door by the scruff of his neck and Girlie Girl (the evil intruder!) is locked in the bathroom. Yeah... means I have to use the kitten litter box if I hafta "go" inside but it's worth it! Mama'a been mean to those intruders!!!!

Girlie has been all awful to us since she emerged with those horrid kittens a few weeks ago and now it's worse 'cause they eat in the kitchen with everyone now. It's SO unfair! She gets all grouchy and chases me all over the house until I can get way up high and away from her JUST because I tell those furballs to keep away!

Then the other day she started yacking ALL the time. rowl rowl rowl She does this bizarre thing where she rolls around and sticks her butt in the air. (MamaCat says this is "heat" and that it sucks rocks.) I don't get it. It's just annoying! The peoples have been mumbling about this and telling her she has to stay inside because of it. Sounds good to me: no meanies in my yard! (Except the orange bobtail Mama calls DaddyCat but I run him off whenever I see him.)

Then I saw Mama human get all concerned when Jack started acting weird. Don't know why... THOSE two are friends and hang out all the time. Anyway... Mama picked jack up by the scruff and threw him out the door. That was WAY COOL but it gets better!

So not much later Girlie was getting on my case, AGAIN, about the babies.... even though there weren't any around and I Did Not Start Growling First. (See? I'm TRYING to be nicer but it's sooooo hard!) She chased me all around the big table. This time Mama saw it happen and you know what she did? She locked Girlie up!!!! Says Girlie has to learn to be nice too.

It's after dark now and Mama put Miss Girlie up in the glass-front door room because she says Girlie and Jack can't play together until they both get something called "fixed." I don't know what that is but there's lots of talk about calling the vet so it can't be good. Glad I don't have to get this "fixed" stuff!!!!!!!

Oh, something else that was AWESOME happened today. Jack and I are now friends... but only away from the house for now... and when Mama and Daddy went for a walk Jack showed me how he goes along with them. It was super fun! We walked out in a path of flat grass to this big open area and Daddy took some pictures with his new camera. He says he got a good one of Mama and me all the way out there. I'll ask him to put it up soon!!!! Anyway... Jack and me ran and played in the tall grass... I've never seen grass that tall! It was kinda scary because I couldn't see the peoples sometimes. It was also really hot and there were lots of strange smells. Jack was super duper nice and would rub against me to tell me it was all perfectly safe. Grover would have been jealous if he saw that!

But ya wanna know the best part? On the way back we were playing a race game and it was Jack's turn to dash ahead of Mama and then my turn but instead of going around him I bowled right through him! He didn't know who or what hit him and it felt SO good.

29 May 2009

a roof over our heads

Ah, fair readers, the attack on deferred maintenance continues apace... now the roof. The roof is probably original to the house and we knew when we bought it that the roof was already in need of replacement- you could easily see the cracks and crevices in the shingles. After asking around, one roofing company emerged as the clear recommendation: JB Roofing, in nearby Check.

Joe came by back in January to make an estimate on the job - we accepted it and went into the queue expecting to have a roof within a month or so. Well, due to the unusually wet weather and days with high winds (you don't want to be wrestling shingles on a second floor roof in a wind). We had an unexpected delay until last week, all induced by the number of days they couldn't work on their other jobs.

We ordered a high-tech shingle made by GAF-Elk (Timberline Prestique 40)that reflects infrared as well as re-emits the heat at a higher level; it is EnergyStar certified and qualifies for a tax rebate. Of course, as you could guess, it cost a bit more but we could easily make that up in a few summers when we didn't use the air conditioner. Joe had to special order it - no one in the South seems to have used it although it is popular in southern California. The 40 year warranty means neither of the Fuzzies will have to re-roof this house!

Last week our name finally came up first on the "job list" and the crew arrived. They (and we) were blessed by four days of good weather (read: little chance of rain or wind) and the men hustled to rip off the old roof and put down the new one. The job is now complete and we are quite happy with our BEAUTIFUL "cool antique slate" new roof. There have been several days of heavy rain since completion and clearly the installers knew their business well.

27 May 2009

Putting Up with the Fuzzies

No, I don't mean Mr. Fuzzy's anti-humor or Mrs. Fuzzy's housekeeping... I mean putting up food! Plans are in the works for a proper cellar but the lack of one has not stopped us from starting to preserve food for winter. I hear you saying...

"What on earth are you putting up, missy?
Your garden isn't even in

Well, if you look on the sidebar you'll see the preserving list and a list of edibles we've actually put in the ground. (There's a whole lot more waiting to go in as soon as I get those beds finished!) So far, the preserving has been little experiments to see how we like these new foods. Next year I'll make larger quantities.

Our farm is blessed with many native edibles, especially nuts, some of which Mr. Fuzzy collected in December. Having recently discovered two more food trees - chinquapin and paw paw - on our property means we're going to be putting on the miles and muscles gathering wild foods this autumn.

I've also been learning much of late about which garden flowers can be preserved. Somewhere I have a cookbook on the subject but it's all for fresh use. Got started late on this project but I did manage to make a little lilac jelly and I've got the first batch of rose petal jam started. There are tons of buds on the scented climbing rose so I expect to be making this every few days for a wee while. Enough, at least, to keep us in this manna. Maybe even plenty to share.

26 May 2009

Ain't they cute?

The babies celebrate their 6-week birthday today so I thought we'd share some unabashed "aaaawww." Kittens really are a natural anti-depressant and general mood booster. All natural with few negative side effects when properly managed! Get one today!

On the advice of the vet we tried to begin weaning these guys a little early. Ha! As they weren't quite ready for solids it was my job to force feed them a slurry of KMR and A/D wet every day so that Miss Girlie could have a little nutrition for herself. Seemed to work... no more colds and Girlie is gaining weight. The benefits duly noted, kittens fight yucky slurry even more than yucky medicine.

We compromised as soon as their little teeth came in and I started taking them cooked chicken. My theory that it was more like what Girlie would bring them seems to be correct. It's a wonderful, and worm-free, alternative to warm mouse. Mmmm! Be careful if you ever do this. Kittens bite hard and fast once they realize chicken tastes good! Now they're on to the kitten kibbles and not visiting the Milk Bar as often. Girlie Girl seems most relieved! I'm happy to have something else for dinner too. (Than chicken, that is!)

Last week we opened the doors and let them start to explore. We walk with our heads down in the house now. They scamper up and down the stairs with ease, raid the adult food, and hiss right back at the adults. There are five and, indulge us here, here's your official introduction:

Bluebeard, our skinny little runt, was the first to open her eyes at only 5 days old. Or should I say "eye" as her right eye started to open about three days later. We presumed she was a boy as ginger cats are more often male so she carries the honor of redeeming the evil pirate's name. We're not sure "redeem" is the proper word any more... Her purr sounds suspiciously like arrrrrrrrrrr. That's her telling Jack "what for."

Bea (Bagheera) has recently taken to bursts of running for no better reason than it's fun. This has led her to discover a couple things well before the others: 1: walls are solid and 2: sometimes the floor falls away. Today she went full tilt off the bed, landed, and kept going. That's the better part of a yard down... Bea is the very image of her mommy and looks like she'll be a pretty little longhair.

Buster is our biggest kitten at more than twice the size of Bluebeard. You might say he's a champion eater... He likes his naps and he likes the Milk Bar. He is often the last to leave either state. Even though he is huge he's a big softie. Not a bully bone in his body. (Unlike Mama Cat's biggest who was awful to the others!)

We still can't tell the last two apart unless we have them together. I think this is the boy, TweedleDum. He is our "wrong way kitty." I understand there is always one. If everyone else runs to the Milk Bar upon waking you can safely bet your money that this cat will decide to hunt the wild packing peanut. His sister, TweedleDee, had a lot of trouble figuring out how to keep her legs under herself while walking on the wood floor but now that she's on carpet she's as fast and silly as the others. Both are exceptionally good at inventing little games to amuse themselves.. especially hunting games. Good kitties, Tweedles!

24 May 2009

Summer is Here

Friday night we saw our first firefly and the roses burst into bloom yesterday morning. That means Summer has begun on Stratheden Farm! Our seasons seem to lag about 3 weeks behind our friends on the other side of the Ridge, two weeks behind the town of Floyd, and one week behind our neighbors up on the road, so it seems reasonable to be nearly a month late for the official start of summer. (May Day)

This week I got the first plants into the ground. Potatoes and pumpkins. Don't get on me about being late on the spuds. The neighbors lost all their head start in the recent frost. Plant death everywhere!

The Kenebeck potatoes went into bushel baskets lined with black trash bags. I read that you're not supposed to plant potatoes in the same place year to year and the companion planting guides all say not to put them next to much of anything... bit of a dielemma there. Then I read that potatos also want super acidic soil... so the multiple "problems" are all solved in one neat manuever. Oh, and there's no digging in the rain this way. Just dump and grab at harvest time!

Since we're building a raised bed garden in stages I'll use the potato soil to begin a strawberry patch this autumn. They like it acidic too! We have a few strawberry plants in the walled garden but certainly not enough to preserve so I'd like to establish a big bed of them in the vegetable garden.

The pumpkins are a variety we purchased from Native Seeds / SEARCH who collected them from Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. Yes, we are renegade gardeners from the get-go. I started thinking this decision through AFTER we had four beautiful seedlings in the greenhouse. These pumpkins are not going to want ultra rich, moist soil for best flavor and keeping qualities. What the heck would they be growing in up on that mesa? Much tapping of head.... sand banks! I ran this by Mr. Fuzzy and he thought it worth a try as it certainly would be true of an old Hopi garden. Happy for us, we have an ugly little sand pit in the dwarf apple orchard. The siting is even decent with lots of afternoon sun.

So, two wheelbarrow loads of pure, stain-your-clothes, black compost and a few minutes with a shovel later we hade a hopefully decent bed prepared. At planting, I added some MoleMax (to deter burrowing beasties) and some mychorezial fungi to the hole. The planting was finished with four bamboo stakes and a length of string: the standard method of keeping the deer out around here. I may add some tepary beans to the same planting as they are another desert variety.

I promise some pictures soon. I just uncovered my camera last night... it got buried in one of our unpacking frenzies and the battery is as dead as my neighbor's garden.

21 May 2009

Light and Darkness

At 6:30 a.m this morning, Mr. Fuzzy let the herd of cats out to shake off their sleep and find a fit toilet. Waiting there at the door as it swung open was MISS LILY! She came right in and seemed no worse for her week away, although she does act a bit touchy with her fellow felines (Jack excepted, of course). How our hearts soared to hold her once more.

Mrs. Fuzzy let Nutmeg outside about fifteen minutes later and in a few seconds, Nutmeg fell, immobile, to the ground. Her breathing was extremely labored and clearly she was in great distress. She died at the veterinarian's at 8:30 from complications due to a massive spleen tumor. We buried her in a shady spot near the workshop where she would often go to sit in peaceful contemplation.

The Creator was so very hard on Nutmeg. She was born with cerebellar hypoplasia, essentially, Downe's Syndrome. Although probably unrelated, she suffered from seizures and thyroid problems, too. In her later years, her spine became arthritic and painful. She took prescription medicines to treat the latter three issues. Nutmeg was never able to enjoy the carefree life of a normal canine.

The tumor had displaced many of her organs; she must have been in much pain for months. She did, nonetheless, retain her sweet disposition and at dinner last night was her usual self, noodling for treats at the dinner table. Now she is with her mentor, Kuma, and her best buddy, Catfish. We trust that you are now relieved of all pain and distress, darling.

Catfish and Nutmeg, 2001, together again

born Nov. 7th, 1996, Sunshine, NM

died May 21st, 2009, Floyd, VA

19 May 2009

Touch of frost, touch of sorrow

This morning the temperature at eight feet above ground level was 31F. A cursory survey of the pasture manifested a wide spread frost. The Fuzzies circumambulated the back half of the farm in the afternoon and discerned significant frost damage, even among the native plants, especially the new growth on spice bushes and the bog iris blooms.

My grandfather advised me long ago to 'share your joys but keep your disappointments and sorrows close to heart.' His advice, with more than four decades of retrospection has proven sage. For this once, I will violate his rule, and hopefully, gentle reader, you will consider it a proper disclosure nonetheless; it weighs upon me mightily.

One week ago tonight, Mr. Fuzzy's favorite cat of all times, Miss Lily, refused to come in at dark. It was not entirely out of the ordinary for her - she wanted to hunt. Always before, she would be waiting at the kitchen door come first light - but she was not there. And we have not seen her since. Almost certainly she has been killed by a predator, most likely an owl, as she was very savvy about four legged hunters. She came to us from the animal shelter as a very sick young cat; Mr. Fuzzy held her for the week she battled with fever and chills. Lily was always extremely affectionate, graduated first in her class at charm school, a boon companion. She usually slept at Mr. Fuzzy's feet. We both miss her terribly. She was Jack's best pal and the pair of them could have passed as brother and sister. Farewell my little friend. UPDATE: she has returned after a week's walkabout!!!! Oh thank you...

Yesterday an email informed Mr. Fuzzy that his old and dear friend Kristen had died unexpectedly on May 14th at only age 38, leaving behind three children under six years of age (Owen is but five months) and her husband. We first were introduced by a mutual friend seventeen years ago and although we have rarely seen each other in recent years, we stayed in contact via emails. She oozed artistic gifts, was refined and elegant in way almost totally lacking among young women, was kind, thoughtful, sweet, great company at the art museum, restaurant table, hiking trail or the rodeo. Oh and did I mention, stunningly beautiful and brilliant? The world has become significantly poorer without her. You left us far too soon, my dearest Lady. Kristen, you will reside forever in my heart.

17 May 2009

Sense of Community

Most valued reader, our humble apologies for the delay in posting new essays. Mr. Fuzzy was away for three days last weekend and it was such a marvelous experience that his paltry writing skills have been severely challenged.

Thus this post regards yesterday, Saturday. The Fuzzies began their day early in order to be at the semi-annual community flea market before all of the good buys were sold. Overwhelmingly, the items for sale were clothes, shoes, etc., not farm tools, tractor accessories, and those other objects of our lust. Nonetheless, Mrs. Fuzzy bought some vegetable seedling for next to nothing. We worked up such an appetite walking and shopping that, after most careful deliberation, it was decided we should eat breakfast at the Cafe rather than perish of malnutrition on the way home. Alack and alas, the same thought was on many minds, er, stomachs, and the line was to the door. Sigh.

We came home and Mrs. Fuzzy worked hard in her garden; Mr. Fuzzy took a nap... until the appointed hour when we raced for the Honda and sped down Highway 221 to the next wee village of Willis. There in the fire station was a five hour Gospel and Bluegrass concert by three bands, barbecue, cake auctions, and a generally good time with our neighbors - all to raise money for the food bank. The music and singing was very good and then some, but for a while, we were severely distracted by the barbecue plate ($5.00) which centered on the tastiest barbecued pork yet to temp our palettes in Virginia - and the cooker was mounted on the back of a tractor - and done by two gents who live across the road. Mmmmmm. Mighty fine. The cake auctions were hot with some delectable delights going for nearly $30.00. We hung out until about 6:30 p.m. by which time we were feeling the pull of unaccomplished tasks on the farm.

What a nice day it was, mostly spent with our fellow Floydians (?), much fun, good grub, and sharing the news with our friends. What is there not to love here?

11 May 2009

Hey! Look!

We got ourselves a link in a post on Mrs. Fuzzy's favorite blog! Go read Homesteading Neophyte.... Phaelan is smart, funny, and really honest about her subject. She's also a great source for recipes not published by Betty Crocker.... like these gems for lilac blossoms and red clover.

A Homesteading Neophyte: Farmers Cheese, Lilac, and (giggle) Kumquat

09 May 2009

Nature's Harvest

The greenhouse isn't our only source of home grown food at Stratheden Farm. This wee stretch of Eden has quite a number of wild edibles. Walnuts, spice bush, cherries, apples... There's lots if we're willing to make a small effort. Life was too crazy to go picking dandelion greens (OK, the desert dweller couldn't remember what they looked like when young) and I missed my window for making candied wild violets but we are enjoying onion season.

Mr. Fuzzy went on another hike down to the wilder parts of our property and came back with culinary gold: a bag of wild ramps (leeks.) Mmmm Mmmmm! I'm off to find more interesting recipes than "fry up and add an egg." If I'm going to stink too bad to go out in public I'm going to make it special. We shared them out with a friend who is suffering a broken toe and unable to get at his own patch so I might have to go get another batch myself.

We're also pulling up another wild onion right here in the yard. A couple weeks ago I was snacking on them like one does chives in the garden. (You do chew on chive flower shoots, too, don't you?) Mr Fuzzy wouldn't eat them until The Forester confirmed their edibility. (Wimp!) Those little wild onions pack a big punch and now they're big enough to pull up for the tiny bulbs. I'll have some on a baked potato tonight.

Right now I'm drinking tea made from the prunings of a small black birch that's growing quite inappropriately under the eve of the garage. When I asked The Forester about how to keep these things under control so they don't mess with the foundations he suggested eating it until it becomes a bonsai.

Like most wild teas, birch has a savoury, slightly bitter, undercurrent but the leading flavor is sweet and cleansing. Brings back memories of the last walk I took with my grandfather. He picked something out there in the woods and it tasted really good. Then I moved to the desert so I never knew what it was... until now!

Yes, even without the drama of the greenhouse we're starting to feed ourselves from the farm. It's awfully tasty!

05 May 2009

Attack of the Baby Plants

So, let's see.... about a fortnight ago I was telling you all that I'd had a total failure in the greenhouse despite using super-duper, extra-good-karma, local, organic potting soil and reusing the plastic starting pots Mrs. Stratton had left for us. I even remembered to wash and bleach and rinse and thoroughly dry the darned things! A whole afternoon wasted just on that operation!

On April 24th I went in and dumped every last potlet into the biggest plastic trug I've ever seen. (Think half whiskey barrel only made out of blue plastic.) I rinsed out the little pans and started over with that old standby, the 3 ounce Dixie cup and some Jiffy Mix for seeds. After listening to watering advice on The Beechgrove Potting Shed I decided to do what the nice Head Gardener (of Edinburgh Botanic Gardens) said and water from the bottom.

yeah.... you know what I'm about to tell you....

Now I'm over run with seedlings and I'm thinking of investing in styrofoam cup manufacturing. That was a tip from one of our farmer neighbors. Pot up into styro cups. Expecting a 50% germination rate, at best, I sowed seeds kinda thickly to make up for my poor seed starting skills. As I'm unable to pinch off those cute little seedlings I now have in the wee greenhouse:

1 hubbard squash
9 eggplants (Ping Tung)
11 summer squash (Yellow Scallop & Tender Gray Zukes)

15 pumpkins (Mayo Blusher, Acoma & Seminole)

23 basil babies

28 muskmelons (Kansas & Golden Jenny)

29 sweet onions

54 iceburg lettuces

55 cucumbers (Edmondson & Arkansas Little Leaf)

76 tomatoes (Long keeper, Amish Paste & al-Kuffa)

untold numbers of leeks

There are also a whole bunch of native tobacco plants popping up and the chiles started breaking through with abandon the other day. Our sweet peppers aren't so excited, nor the other eggplants, but maybe they're waiting for more warmth as it's been rather cool these last few days.

Our Ping Tung eggplants and the Hubbard squash (UK translations: aubergine and edible gourd) were part of February's Winter Sowing experiment. They've done OK but I'm not seeing that they are any further along than had I planted them two weeks ago. Might be the potting soil... The ping tungs are still just two seedling leaves despite being up at least three weeks. Madame Hubbard sat the same way for weeks and weeks until I plucked her from her starter pot and put her into new soil in the greenhouse. Now she has four leaves and looks pretty happy.

One wonderful surprise was the al-Kuffa tomato bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They popped up three days before the other varieties! According to the catalog these were sent to them from a customer in Iraq who hoped that the variety could be saved. Apparently we're distributing "improved" seeds over there at such a furious pace that the local varieties have been essentially abandoned in just a few years. This is supposed to be an early bush tomato that likes cooler weather. I'll let you know how they do!

02 May 2009

in the fog

Mr. Fuzzy reveled in the glories of the Fife fogs and haars. He had never been so fortunate to live in a place so blessed. "Little Fife," more commonly known as Floyd County, has done its best to produce fine fogs that are most reminiscent of the Fife coast.

A couple of days ago there was a marvelous fog that formed in the night (a common pattern here) and laid until the sun finally burned through about noon. After completeing some morning duties, Mr. Fuzzy took a leisurely amble down the county road and took these photographs. There's no story, just enjoy the images, if you will. Remember that you can click on the image to enlarge it, should you so desire.