28 July 2009

Outdoor Food Drying in Virginia

Hello beloved readers. Did you think I'd been crushed by a rabid zucchini?

The snap test indicated "not rabid" but those squashes do come on strong. Maybe five plants was a bit much? We had intended upon drying most of the surplus for use in winter soups and stews but we've run into a small problem known as "fog" and a larger problem called "rain" which sent our initial experiment of outdoor air drying into Boldy Moldy Land. At least it will feed the compost pile.

We have the greenhouse, which gets nice and hot this time of year, but it, too, has a little moisture problem when it rains. After much moving of clods previously known as "The Lawn" to the east side of the greenhouse to create a living sponge barrier, digging a trench to further divert runoff from the slope, and adding a whole lot of daylilies, red hot pokers, and a red Mystery Monocot we're almost ready to roll. (Or string, I suppose!)

Only problem now is to defeat the water that comes in the door. This might require adding a roof panel under the deck but I'm not sure. It's my next move and I do hope to God it works because otherwise I might give in and buy an electric dehydrator.

Until the moisture issue is resolved, the zukes and patty pans are keeping well on the counter for a week until we can eat them or give them to our few friends without gardens. We have an especially enthisiastic chiropractor "from the city" and a nurse neighbor who are happy to have them. (Thanks!)

Giant zuke, anyone?

24 July 2009

Blackberries - the natural kind

A marvelous day on the farm, as usual. The Fuzzies took Rufus and we walked down to the bottoms by Long Man Creek to pick blackberries. Less than 5% of the berries are fully ripe, most remain entirely red, but in about two hours we picked about 7/8ths of a gallon of tasty berries.

Mr. Fuzzy's ADHD is really punishing in a berry patch. Imagine if you will, spotting a luscious, full black, juicy berry but as you reach for it, another catches your eye, and now you reach for it. Repeat this scenario ad infinitum. Get my drift?

Mr. Fuzzy's old and dear friend, Terry, many years ago gave him two pair of dojo trousers made of a heavy canvas. Literally, it takes a year of wearing them to break them in. After that, they are comfortable and indestructible for the next decade or more. They allowed Mr. Fuzzy to wade amongst the fiercest of blackberry canes with total impunity - from the waist down, at least. From there up, all was at risk. Thank you, Terry!

We are once more grateful for the bounty here on the farm. After picking another gallon in a few days hence, the blackberry jam factory with be in full production with Mrs. Fuzzy in charge and Mr. Fuzzy performing the menial tasks. Should all proceed apace, jars of jam will be under our friends holiday trees this winter.

23 July 2009

Bounty Hunters

Yes, it would be both fair and accurate to denominate the Fuzzies as "bounty hunters." We thrive on the bounty of the farm. Today's harvest included the basket of squash shown below as well as about a dozen cucumbers. The farm was blessed by 0.83 of an inch of rain which came with an impressive display of lightning about 3:00 a.m. and lasted for several hours. The garden, pastures and forests are well pleased.Besides that which is ripe and ready at this very moment, there is the promise of the future all about us. The walnut trees are drooping with the copious quantity of nuts hanging thereon. A goodly proportion of the blackberries are now dark, plump and tender, awaiting our purple stained fingers to pluck them from amongst the thorns. Some of our apple trees will bear a bounty; others may have been substantially damaged by the late May frost. The various melons and pumpkins are coming on strong - more days of full sun such as today would benefit them immensely. Such a perfect day - rain in the dark, full sun all day and a high of about 77F. We thank the creator for all of the blessings here.

22 July 2009

A Fungus Among Us

Apologies, devoted reader, for the absence of a blog post for such a long period. There has been little to mention here on the farm other than mowing the grass, weeding, playing with the cats, and teaching Rufus to walk on a leash. Had there been news of import, you may rest assured, fellow travelers in the blogosphere, that it would have been brought to your attention in a timely manner. The most important feature of recent was Monday's inch of precipitation which began about 3:30 a.m. and finally rung out every droplet by twelve hours later. It was beginning to become dry and the garden as well as the forest needed refreshment from the heavens.

The deer have finally attacked the garden and ate the tops off of all of the sunflowers. Mrs. Fuzzy drove to The Big City today and bought a solar powered electric fence. As soon as it is adequately light for the task, Mr. Fuzzy will be driving fence posts and stringing wire tomorrow. These brazen rebel ruminants must be stopped in their tracks! On the advice of the folks at Tractor Supply, I will string one wire at three feet from the ground and another at seven feet.

Taking advantage of the warm weather (it soared to 77F today), The Fuzzies took a stroll around and about the plantation with Rufus on leash. Jack Tar came with us, of course, as he is our official escort on all perambulations hereabouts. For the first time, Girlie also accompanied us. Because of her long hair, she overheated easily and we had to cease locomotion several times to allow the felines to cool off. Girlie blends perfectly into the forest, as good as camouflage can be and she seemed more than skilled as a hunter. Thanks to her, we were allowed a close inspection of a box turtle, Terrapene Carolina, which is relatively common in Virginia.

We have oft discussed the concept of creating a small booklet, both for ourselves and our guests-to-be, of the flora of the farm. Today seemed as auspicious as any to begin this endless task. Technically they are not flora, but the first entries are some of the many species of mushrooms which dot the forest.

15 July 2009


Sunday brought the first torrential downpour that we have seen so far. It came in sheets, driven hard by the winds, accompanied by prodigious bolts of nearby lightning. The farm gratefully received about 3/4 of an inch of rain in less than thirty minutes.

Rufus (the Canine formerly known as Biscuit) and I took a stroll down to the bottoms this morning to assess the status of the blackberry patch (maybe half an acre). I can report that the first berries are now ripe but 99% are still sometime away from being pure delight on the palette. We are impressed with Rufus' intelligence - he learns very fast and knows "sit" with only a few days training. But that pales compared to what I witnessed today - he watched me eat three or four berries and HE proceeded to very carefully pluck blackberries (without getting his lips in the thorns) and eat them! He doesn't flinch around gunshots (well, at least flint locks) and is so well behaved when taking long (one hour) car rides. It seems like the Creator is trying to balance the twelve and a half years with Nutmeg as the resident canine.

The farm is in its summer glory. The hay has been mown and baled so the fields are as well manicured as an Enron executive testifying before Congress. The trees are happy and the walnut trees, in particular, seem to be nourishing a plenitude of nuts for the autumn pleasures of man and squirrel alike. The forest floor has lush stands of ferns anywhere enough sunlight penetrates to the leafy carpets.

The kittens continue their path towards certification as full fledged, card-carrying cats. They are now thirteen weeks old and are growing. physically and mentally, by leaps and bounds (that is also how they move about). We hope that the will remain as affectionate as adults as they are now. Here is Miss Tweedle today, waving to all of her fans on this blog. As an obscure aside for one or two of the initiated readers, we have just discovered that F. Holland Day's childhood feline was also named Tweedle....

The big news that I promised to disclose today has been postponed for about a fortnight due to circumstances beyond our control. Be patient, good friend, and await the glad tidings in their due time.

14 July 2009

I is an Autist!

Child's Anti-Fairy Cap

... ... ...But I still don't know how to change any of the settings on my new old camera. Please excuse the rather poor quality of the above! Mrs. Fuzzy got a telephone call today (yes, sometimes I do pick up!) from the Jacksonville Arts Center saying they were accepting all three of my pieces for exhibition in their annual New Works show! Here are the three pieces for all you far away folks.

St. Luci

Mercury as The Word

12 July 2009

This & That

It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone....

Puppy now has a new name that might stick. At least it has lasted more than 30 hours... So he is (for now) Rufus. I say "for now" because we keep forgetting what we've named him. Nothing seems to stick!

We took him yesterday to our friend Jim's summer shooting match and the pup was a star. Not afraid of anyone or anything... even a huge and playful dog. The consensus there was to call him Dog. Can you trust the opinions of a bunch of old black powder guys? Today we did see evidence of something Rufie is terribly respectful of: horses. I'm thinking he was formerly the dog of a single woman with more than a few spirited equines. Sees a horse and sits like he's half bored and half concerned.

The shoot was a little further down the Ridge, near Laurel Fork. A great group of guys showed up and some actually shot. Maybe in a couple years we'll have a summer chunk match at the creek on Stratheden Farm. Don't worry, folks, your author will load up on her Rescue Remedy first.

The garden is providing us with fresh food every day now. LOTS of Zukes that taste better if you let them get big and cucumbers that are just right for two. Today I cracked my newest preserving book (please buy it here.... they're nice folks) and started a bottle of fermented cucumbers.

Finally, Girlie Girl has been healing nicely from her surgery and has been allowed outside again after 3 long months of confinement and house rest. You might say she's exceedlingly happy... and way cute leaping through the gardens. She and Chetworth seem to get along outside and Grover is OK with her inside now. Ahhh the dangers of kitty politics! Some day it'll get sorted but for now we're happy to have stopped the baby machinery and the neighbor cats it attracts.

So, that's a week at Stratheden... a little of this... a little of that... and a lot of animal management duties for Mrs. Fuzzy.

07 July 2009

ebb and flow

Its been the usual, rather unpredictable life here on the farm, especially in the last few days. Yesterday I walked out to the mailbox about 8:30 a.m. to find two total strangers mowing our front pasture... one fellow asked who I was and when I said "I'm the owner" he had a clearly perplexed look... the previous owners of the farm, it seems, had a long standing agreement with these brothers to mow and bale a small section at the front of our farm - and the adjoining 15 acres or so owned by an absentee person. The brothers were unaware that the farm has changed ownership. They whacked the tops off of some of the lavender test plots and mowed the small pasture that we were going to commit to keeping wildflowers for the bees and butterflies - and the turkeys who nested there and deer who bed there... Gosh, imagine my surprise...

We had a call yesterday from a young couple who were referred by our veterinarian. They sought an orange female kitten for their three year old daughter. "Come on over" we said - as we quietly wondered if they could ever be good enough to have one of our kittens...or whether we could survive the separation trauma. An hour later the three of them arrived and were duly invited inside to meet the kittens. The little girl, "Mack," could win any "cute kid" contest and was remarkably careful in playing with the kittens. Mom and Dad were truly good people and experienced cat and dog service staff. Mom really liked Mrs Tweedle, who is probably the best companion of the litter but Mack had her little heart set on Bluebeard, the runt of the litter, the only short hair, and the most independent of the bunch. Although our trepidations were diminished, it was still little short of heart rending to watch them walk out with Bluebeard.

With good fortune, there will be other good homes appear for three more of the kittens. We will keep either one or two. With certainty, Butch will live out a long and happy life with us. He was until recently the largest of the litter, probably the soppiest, and what a racket when he purrs (which is often). He seems to be apprenticing to Jack Tar and learning from him. Butch spent part of last night sleeping with his head on Jack's flanks. Jack has been a superb uncle to the kittens and watches over them when they are outdoors and frequently holds them down and cleans them when indoors. Butch has taken to Jack's habit of jumping in Mr. Fuzzy's lap as soon as he sits at the computer... see attached photograph.

Mr. Fuzzy is the photographer for the local humane society and visits the local county pound once a week to photograph the poor new denizens in order the post them on the society's web site where they have a far better chance of being seen and adopted. Last week, there were two new occupants, a very sad and stressed beagle and a young black & white male... This morning, Mr & Mrs Fuzzy journeyed to the Pound to inspect the young guy... and we came home with him. He's maybe three or four months old, seems to know what a leash is for, and learns VERY quickly. Jack Tar was pretty uncertain at first but after a few minutes, Jack and Lily were watching from just a few feet away as the puppy explored the house. We were not going to get another dog so soon after Nutmeg's demise but when you see a great one... no more good night's sleep for another month or so. Our tentative name for him is BISCUIT. Tomorrow he goes to the vet for that most unkind of cuts.

05 July 2009

At Last.... She Posts Pictures!

So, last weekend I took a little walk to view the beautiful bales of hay out on the knob. It was a perfect day... a little hot with big clouds filling the sky and just enough humidity to give the vistas some atmosphere.Justify Full
I took with me my "new" camera which is actually Mr. Fuzzy's old, old Minolta digital. So old, in fact, it takes AA batteries! Soooooo...... I took a bunch of pictures and lost my computing spine when I got back into the house. Surely there would be major issues connecting a Windows 98 era camera to a 64-bit Vista machine. My courage failed and I put off trying until Himself was home and refreshed enough to help me fix the inevitable software implosion. Yesterday was that day....
And the camera talked to the new computer just fine and dandy. I'm sorry I made you wait.

01 July 2009

The gardens proceed apace

Most treasured and erudite of all blogosphere readers,

Mr. Fuzzy must apologize for his absence in the internet ether... duty forced him away from the farm and to western Kentucky for eight days of intense heat (the coolest high temperature was 92F). He returned Sunday to find the farm soaking in the pleasant 76F temperature. Mr & Mrs Fuzzy took a sunset walk Tuesday evening as the sun sat and after a week in the 90s, Mr. Fuzzy was actually chilled by the low-humidity 70F air.

It has come to Mr. Fuzzy's attention that there has been some wildly misguided speculation regarding his nom de plume. Let me assure my most valued readers, yes you, one and all, that it derives from his photographic pursuits in soft focus lenses, rendering "fuzzy pictures" if you will. Hence, "Mr. Fuzzy." It does not relate to his facial hair, non-linear reasoning or any of the other somewhat scurrilous speculations that apparently abound.

During the week away, some things changed dramatically on the farm. The five kittens have changed significantly and have metamorphosed from kittens into miniature cats. Their speed and agility increased by a magnitude and their not-so-wee paws now echo throughout the house as they stampede about, doing what ten week old cats do... their colors have become more intense in some cases, with patterns becoming more evident. Buster is no longer the largest of the litter, Mr. Tweedle having surpassed him in both weight and height. Little Bluebeard, the runt of the litter, will always retain her title of 'tiny' it seems - she was developmentally in the lead of the litter for the first fortnight and is still perhaps the boldest of them all, despite her diminutive presence. Fear not, good reader, a photographic exploration will be produced soon to illuminate their new physical edifices.

Mrs. Fuzzy's raised bed garden has prospered in the last week of sun and warmth (at last, no rain for a week - I may regret saying that later in the summer). Her zucchini plants are HUGE and are yielding fresh fruits by the day. Does anyone know of a recipe book dealing exclusively with zucchinis? The cucumber plants are producing little "pickles-to-be" with wild abandon. We will have to corner the market on vinegar soon... All of the apple trees are dense with fruits, albeit some seem small (they will get a well-deserved feeding in the autumn).

About six weeks ago, we engaged Boothe Creek Excavating from nearby Check to remove several hundred hawthorn trees from two areas on the back of the farm. These thorn covered small trees were taking over what had been pastures at one time and threatened to continue spreading. Their long (2-3 inch) thorns were enough to deter even deer from attempting to pass through these dense stands. Tim & Virgil arrived with a bulldozer and an articulated arm with a bucket and 'thumb.'

With the latter, Virgil could grasp a hawthorn tree and gently pull it from the earth, roots and all (otherwise, they will re-colonize). This method minimally disturbs the top soil and left the little patches of grass intact. The bulldozer was used primarily to dig the 'burn pit' where the trees were reduced to ash, the pit then covered and leveled. This method left a clean, level and almost smooth surface, with large patches of grass throughout. We will seed the more level patch in grasses to extend the pasture; the more steeply sloped area are intended to be seeded in more chinkapins and paw-paws from other parts of the farm. For those who might be concerned that the ecology of the farm was adversely impacted by the hawthorn removal, there remain perhaps another 100 trees further down on the farm. Overall, we believe that the farm's ecology is improved by reducing the hawthorn invaders and increasing the rare trees and bushes of the BlueRidge region.

The burn pit is shown in progress - and Jack exploring the new ground just a few days ago. As you can see, nature has a habit of repopulating seemingly barren areas pretty quickly around here! Tim & Virgil opened up perhaps four acres or more and there was a marvelous unanticipated benefit - a new lovely vista appeared to the south.

Mr. Fuzzy is thrilled to be home again, with Mrs. Fuzzy, Jack, the whole cat crew, the raccoons who raid our trash cans, the buzzards who oft rest along the front of the farm, fireflys, chirping crickets, and all of the new fawns. There is no other place like Stratheden Farm for him.

Stay tuned for a MAJOR news announcement about the farm in a week or so. It might be so momentous as to push Michael Jackson's untimely death from your saddened minds, dearest readers.