30 March 2010

Putting Cats in Jars

Well, I took a look at our traffic report for last year. It was low on the list but somebody actually Googled that headline and found our little blog. Seems we're also a popular site for bramble jam recipe searchers. I'm glad to share! Mr. Fuzzy and I were disappointed, though, that nobody confused our farm with it's namesake. Perhaps that's a good thing.

29 March 2010

Obscure and Arcane

Mr. Fuzzy has long been accused of being interested in the arcane and obscure (to which he pleadeth nolo contendere); this shooting match which he attended last Saturday is a fine example of the same. Muzzleloading firearms became passe not long after the Civil War (1861-1865) and black powder fell out of use by 1900. Even in remote parts of Southern Appalachia, muzzle loading rifles had largely disappeared by the turn of the century.

One of the few reasons they were kept was for the occassional special shooting match which mandated the use of muzzle loading rifles. Displays of shooting prowess had ben common in the trans-Appalachian region from the mid-1700s. A popular form that is uniquely America is the "over-the-log" or "chunk" match, with its roots in the 1700s that has nonetheless been carried forward without interuption into the 21st century. Without this type of match, where the prizes were fresh meat, muzzle loading rifles and the knowledge of building and shooting them would have vanished forever (see the book Foxfire V for a relevant chapter). A chunk match is perhaps more American than apple pie.

Above, an image, ladies and gentlemen, of the three founding fathers (Mel, Ron, Jim) of this eighteen year old over-the-log match, perhaps the largest single shooting match in the country. Mr. Fuzzy attended the first and second years of this match and enjoyed the shooting and the fellowship immensely. It was such a warm and dare I say "fuzzy" pleasure to see so many old friends again after more than a decade of abstinence. My hat is certainly off to these three fine gentlemen for the thousands of unrenumerated hours they have spent so that the rest of us might enjoy the event.

It is held on the Pall Mall TN, farm of World War I hero Alvin York and involves only muzzle-loading rifles, either flintlocks (which real men prefer) or percussion, shooting round lead balls. There is no restriction otherwise on the rifle. Many have long barrels, in the range of four feet (48 inches), to create a long sighting radius and the hoped-for increase in accuracy.

Shooters tend to be men, of a certain age... handsome and debonair gentlemen in so many cases... about 200 of them...

The match is fired a 60 yard range with all shooters firing their flintlocks or percussion rifles from the prone position, their muzzles resting on a log or 'chunk' of wood (hence the name 'chunk match'). Now, gentle readers, hold on to your mental hats for this detail: each shooter makes up their own target (denominated as "spotter"); there are as many ideas for spotters as there are shooters. To get a better view of these spotters, click on the picture to enlarge it (indeed, you may perform such an act on any or all of these images). The actual target cannot be seen - it is behind the spotter!

There were ten relays for each of the 230 or thereabouts shooters, therefore, the judges had to score 2,300 targets in real time. Scoring is performed using a micrometer to measure the distance of the bullet hole from the center of the "X" - the final score ("string") for all ten relays is the sum of the distance that each hole lay from the center of the "X" - the winner, for the fifth year in a row, had a score of about 4.8 inches meaning that on the average, his ten shots were less than half an inch for the X-center. That's is mighty fine work!

28 March 2010

Kluck... Kluck... Kluck... BRAAAWK!

Frizzled Bantam Cochin

The chick order has been placed! I'm really buying 25 day old chickens by post. It's sort of unreal.... I mean, animals come to us by chance and impulse but we've been talking this over for nearly 18 months!

After much debate, oohing and aawing over pictures, and talking to a few actual chicken keepers we settled on Murray McMurray Hatchery and two kinds of chickens. Our initial decision was for Opringtons and Dominiques but they don't breed Orps so we're getting Cochins in several types - two colors of "frizzled" bantams and "partridge" standards.

27 March 2010

Hi folks, it's been a hard week.

First, I got a call from Salsa Dog's new owner saying they want to return him. I politely refrained from telling him "of course a terrier will make mischief when you don't give him toys and don't play with him enough... like I TOLD YOU." Ugh.

Then I talk to my mom who says Dad is on the slide again. Lots of schtuff there but mostly I wish Mom could take better care of herself. Dad's a lot of work! I go to the Humane Society meeting and report to everyone that Foster the cat is walking better but he has a cough.

Wednesday Foster died. He had a raging lung infection. I had, in great hopefulness, believed that the Cat Lady was right and it was a symptom of worms. He was super thin so it seemed possible. I buried him where he can see the room where he lived. We're both going to miss him... he was well on his way to becoming a Stratheden Black Cat.

There have been a few good things this week too. The deer are waiting for the lettuces and cabbages to get bigger before eating them. My eleven "thank you" trees from the Arbor Day Society arrived and are planted in the garden to grow on for two years. Then we got our order from the forestry department...... I've got about 125 seedling trees to heel in today. We've already lined the front of the drive with some of the crab apples.

Ooo- and let me leave you with the fun news! Mr. Fuzzy got his new metal detector and we went treasure hunting below the house! Now, the coin and jewelry guys would laugh but we found a line of cut nails, iron rings, and OLD broken iron pot parts. Looks like we've located the barn site.

20 March 2010

Vernal Equinox

Today, for those devoted readers sans calendars, was the very first day of Spring, the vernal equinox, when the hours of sun and darkness are almost exactly equal and the sun rises and sets almost precisely east and west.

It even acted like Spring here on the farm - the high was 67F, not a cloud in the sky and a light breeze. If a doubting Thomas required further proof, there were the crocus and daffodils as silent witnesses to the Spring.

Mr. Fuzzy cut down the large apple tree in the back corner of the walled garden a couple of days ago. Our predecessors noted that it did not yield any fruit but Mr. Fuzzy was loathe to cut it down without a first-hand observation. The tree was healthy but heavily shaded by huge oaks. Perhaps worse yet, the builders of our house imported pond mud to fill the garden corner, why we will never know. The soil here is more than adequate according to tests by Virginia Tech university and needed no supplements whatever. The pond muck is very poor in nutrition and packs densely. Between that and the shade, the poor apple tree would never have the conditions requisite for fruit production. Removing the tree has opened a large area of the garden for herbs and perennials - once we add supplements to the soil.

Today Mr. Fuzzy spent almost five hours wrestling a chain saw in the process of reducing a large oak tree to firewood. The tree blew down in a July windstorm and Mr. Fuzzy started to cut it in December - two days before the first 18 inch snow. Needless to say, it is extremely unsafe to operate a chainsaw when you cannot see what is beneath your feet! Now that the snow has melted and the ground surface is relatively dry (slipping could be a fatal error), it is time to go hammer and tongs and make next winter's firewood. It may take another 20 hours to finish the oak tree and clean up the debris (so the hay can be mowed).

Happy Spring time, one and all.

16 March 2010

What's up with the Greenhouse?

Spinach, lettuce, cabbage, arugula (rockett) and radishes are all sprouted and growing in my shallow soil on the floor. Our year old asparagus seedlings have sent up the tiniest purple spears. Once the plants are well up I'll need to transfer them from their window boxes into roomier accommodations. The cabbages will eventually be transplanted out, probably some of the lettuces too, while the rest will provide some early salads. Outside we have some collards and rainbow chard coming on that overwintered despite my neglect.

The remodel is complete for now and it's time to get going on the next round of seedlings. A new "portable greenhouse" shelving unit inside the larger structure will provide (hopefully) the extra warmth needed to start our summer vegetables. The jury is still out on the survival of my habanero plants. My suspicion is that they'll be compost due to some very cold nights before I put the heat in three months ago. Eh! Next fall I'll do better by my peppers.

I'm debating on a plan to shade the structure this year so that we can grow things in there that need heat but not quite 110 degrees. Things like tomatoes, melons, and passion fruit. The debate is between planting a pair of hardy kiwi vines or a trio of climbing roses at the gable end to eventually shade the east and south glazing. See the problem? One produces lots of delicious fruit but I'd have to give most of it away or dry it because only I eat kiwis. The other would be gorgeous viewed from our deck, low maintenance, and romantic but purely aesthetic. I wonder if I could plant just one rose with the vines? It's not like I need a huge harvest, after all! Long term the structure will be replaced so that throws a wrench in the works too, so to speak.

Speaking of plantings at the base of this thing my attempt to slow the intrusion of water from the east side seems to be taking. Just enough water comes in to water the plants inside but there is no more flooding! The daylillys I planted in a berm along that wall survived the cold and snow and are starting to poke their first leaves through the soil. We also have daffodils and tulips coming up. It's going to be beautiful!

10 March 2010

A Week's Difference

Most kind and gentle Reader---

When last we conversed, the Farm had just suffered a major late season snow storm that deposited about four inches of exceptionally slick snow on the Farm and its environs (indeed, it barely covered the entire county). Ah, but a week later, it is nearly 60F. Yes, much like last year at this time, it is as if the Creator woke up one morning and threw the switch from Winter to Spring rather than easing said switch gently from one pole to the other.

It has been a week of transitions:
Old crusty snow > new slick snow > ice > mud

Over the last three days, Mr. Fuzzy has earnestly endeavored to repair the winter's damage to the driveway, mostly caused of recent in the form of ruts. 3,900 pounds (American) of gravel have been hand-shoveled into the pot-holes and ruts. This short section shown here swallowed up nearly 1,500 pounds all by itself. Much of the ground is still frozen and the situation is but temporarily under control.

The first flowers have bloomed on the Farm, the ever reliable crocus (ah, if only politicians were so reliable), bless their cheery faces. With near certainty it may be prognosticated that there will be several killing frosts yet but no more long term freezing temperatures. Huzzah. Life will so abound again on the Farm after this difficult and severe deep freeze.

07 March 2010

02 March 2010

A Day's Difference

The upper, sunny image was taken yesterday. It was 41F and the snow was fleeing before Sol's radiance. There was bare ground appearing in strategic locations, under trees and on south facing slopes. There were birds singing their welcomes to Spring. Alright, it wasn't Spring but the augurs appeared favorable for an early appearance.

This drab, chilling image was taken in the afternoon hours today as the snowstorm raged on. Ye weather prophets had foreseen but an inch, if that much, of accumulation. False prophets! As darkness dimmed the countryside, the snows were about to cease after depositing about four inches.

There was one summer in the 20th century wherein frost was seen nearly every morn of the year regardless of season (and the notorious winter of 1887-88 when it snowed every month but August). There has never been an official weather observation station in our county but the memories of our farmers last long and burn bright. Oh what shall this most unusual year bring for us in the coming months? Perhaps we should plant iceberg lettuce instead of chiles? We shall see - and hope for just adequate rather than abundant garden yields for sustenance for ourselves and ye wild beasties of the farm and forest.