30 May 2011

Miss Bett's Memorial Day Babies

I check on the chickens about mid-day most days. Today's check, as all others, included an inspection of the eggs under my broody girls. Little Squeaky is sitting on six banty eggs. I presume they are all hers as there is no variation. She might be a mama about June 17th although the quality of her shells is not great. She's the first of our Cochins to go broody and could use the time away from the roosters to regrow her feathers. The big girls seem utterly disinclined but that's OK as they earn their keep with great big eggs.

Miss Bett has been on her clutch for about a month. The girls seem to like to spend a week or two collecting eggs in their nest before getting down to the business of incubation. The magic number of eggs around Stratheden seems to be five, real or fake, acquired over several days. (They'd like more.) As you can see from the picture, today was hatch day! All came from large eggs.

Two chicks seem to have bantam Cochin daddys. That cute yellow chick is a biggie but my red roosters are both bantams, so it's counted as a bantam x. Another is all black and comparatively small. Four of the chicks have feathered legs which confirms Cochin parentage. We'll have to wait until these babies grow proper feathers (about four weeks) to know if any of the chicks are "frizzled." Three chicks have the classic markings of a Dominique chick. All their head spots seem fairly compact, suggesting they are females.

When Bett went broody again I decided to test an old wive's tale about sexing by egg shape. I took away any egg that was especially round or (more often) long as the books say neither produces "good chickens." (Whatever that may mean.) I then removed any particularly pointy egg on the theory that well pointed eggs are more often roosters. This left just the lovely, slightly rounded, "female" eggs.

In another day or so I should be able to "wing feather sex" them to determine how many girls and boys we have.

29 May 2011

Liriodendron tulipifera

The season is at its end but thanks to the anomalous amount of precipitation, the tulip poplars still have some blooms. Ninety percent of the blooms are totally withered or barely hanging on - but the remaining ten percent showcase one of the most beautiful blooms from any tree (Southern magnolia, in the same family, excepted). This stately (100-150 feet high) tree is in the same family as magnolias and despite its common name, is unrelated to poplars. They are abundant on the front half of Stratheden Farm.

The smallish tree with the most eye-catching bloom here has to be the flame azalea. These bloomed out a week ago or so but were spectacular while they lasted - as always.

The monsoons have ceased, at least for a few days, the weekend has been glorious, 80F in the day and about 57F at night. Perhaps the garden will dry out enough to work the ground before planting season has passed.

24 May 2011

Weather - what else?

Stratheden is in a cycle of monsoons. For maybe a month or more, there has almost always been "the daily downpour." The topography of Floyd county mitigates against flooding, thank goodness, or we'd be up to our powder horns in water by now. The heavy clay here never seems to stop absorbing water, much to my surprise.

Today two waves of liquid passed over the farm, one a gentle rain, one a downpour. Mr. Fuzzy was able to work before the first and between the two - the garden is too wet to till so Mr. Fuzzy is swinging his Ugandan hoe high and blasting apart the dense clay. After the hoe has broken the soil into chunks, Mr. Fuzzy uses his father's four tine cultivator (now approaching forty-five years old) to produce a reasonably homogeneous and loose soil structure that is ready for planting.

Here is a view of Black Ridge after the second storm today.

23 May 2011

We Have Arrived

That's right folks... we've (I've?) undergone the next round of "do you really live in the country" tests.

My first thought when an unknown car pulled up on Monday afternoon was "who the hell is that and why am I opposed to shooting at trespassers?" It turned out to be a friend who was dropping by in their work vehicle. We had a lovely impromptu visit and shared some especially bad jokes that ladies such as I are not supposed to enjoy. (Yet, we do.)

Then Rocky got skunked on Sunday... and the darn skunk chased us! We (Nice Neighbor, her dogs, and Rocky) had walked down to the creek to let the dogs have a cooling swim and decided to wimp out and take the shady road back to the house. Turning at our little swamp and heading up the spur road the dogs surprised the skunk in the little creek below the house. We called the dogs off and Neighbor shouts "RUN! The darn thing's chasing the dogs!"

So, we ran along the main path of the old road all the way to the driveway. Neighbor's shepherd saw us as far as that little meadow and turned to run off the skunk while we headed up the drive to safety. Two skunked dogs were safely enclosed in our walled garden while I took Neighbor home in our vehicle. Mr. Dog was waiting for her on our driveway, hot and exhausted there in the shade of the rose thicket but also looking proud of his abilities.

Three dogs got to experience the trauma of a de-stinkifying bath. I'm glad I only had the one who needed it! The locally trusted skunk stink remedy is 1 quart peroxide, 1 cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of dish detergent. Clicking on the link will explain why this formula works. I washed Rocky as much as he could handle without trauma (he's terrified of the bath) so he's not noxious any more.

21 May 2011

Rain Report

Some days it seems as though all we've had for weather this spring is rain, rain, and more rain. Looking at my little farm diary I see that we have actually had just about the right amount of rain for the plants to be happy little growing things.

I started keeping good rainfall notes in late February, when I decided it was nearly time to begin planting. Early March saw 5 inches of rain followed by a dry week in which I got much of the lower garden prepared and planted. The month ended with another inch of rain, making for a nice, gentle, environment for newly transplanted herbs and berry canes to begin establishing themselves.

The month of April really was crazy for rain but did no harm to the gardens. (The driveway was a different story!) The first three weeks saw totals of 2.63", 2", and 2.89" again followed by a glorious and dry week for planting and cultivating. The cover crops and straw covering of the soil allowed the 'lower' garden to take all that rain without any damage. Mr. Fuzzy's 'far' garden was still fallow so the weeds kept the soil from washing away.

The rain has become more consistent over the last month, settling in at about 1.5" per week in several rains. This makes me and the lower garden happy but for all those, like Mr. Fuzzy, who waited until warm weather to "put in the garden" it's been a real pain. After plowing, harrowing, and tilling all that bare soil was clobbered by the rain. Hopefully, the rain will hold off for a week and all the late-breaking gardeners will have the opportunity to mend, amend, and plant their plots before another round of, hopefully gentle, rains.

As for me, I'll be cutting down the first cover crop and planting a second one in the same location to suppress weeds, add organic matter, and sop up the free nitrogen as those 'tillage' radishes decompose.

11 May 2011

news flash

It is 61F, humid and dead still tonight with no moon (it will rise about 2:00 a.m.). Mrs. Fuzzy was taking the compost out a few minutes ago and saw, she reported, fireflies. Mr. Fuzzy proceeded apace to the veranda and confirmed said observation. There were only a few and they were, most unusually, very high off the ground, maybe 40 feet or more judging by the silhouettes of the tree line.

Your most humble correspondent has never, ever , in his 60-plus years, seen fireflies before the very end of May - and more typically they have made their seasonal debut in June.

Most unusual. Might this be an augur?

[Mr. Fuzzy rarely posts without photographically illustrating the text and has an abiding faith that the good readers will allow him an exception this once.]

10 May 2011

Colonial Trade Fair

Mr. Fuzzy, heavily influenced by his friends the Jones and the Dresslars, has long been into all things American Colonial in terms of the domestic interior. There are hundreds of very bad attempts at that aesthetic, ranging from Ethan Allen furniture to -made-in-China ceramics; you see them almost on a daily basis in a city of consequence. Oddly, there are an equal number of artisans who make perfect reproductions (or with allowance for modern usage) and on the whole, they are less expensive than the junque which pervades the marketplace of today.

The problem, as you may know, good reader, is finding these artists and viewing their wares. They are unlikely to have galleries or other forms of representation. They are overwhelmingly one-person studios and especially if constructing a complex product such as furniture, their annual output is miniscule.

Consider their unique situation: first, they must spend years in studying period original objects and then, second, spend years acquiring competence in that trade. Many use only 18th century methods in the production of their arts. I know of none whose endeavours produce wealth - just a modest existence. They go into their studios each morn not with a balance sheet in their heads but love of the medium in their hearts.

Fort Frederick State Park (Maryland) holds an annual 18th century trade fair each spring and it is the premier event of its sort south of the Mason-Dixon line. The artist's arts must pass a rigorous jurying process to be admitted - and the number of artists has been capped in recent years. Perhaps 120 or so are there displaying their wares.

Except for a very large event in Lexington, Kentucky, more of Mr. & Mrs. Fuzzy's artisan-craftsman are assembled at Fort Frederick than at any other one place. The Fuzzys attend more to visit with far-flung friends than to acquire material artifacts (that simply occurs as a natural by-product).

If you ever have the chance to attend this four day event, you really should treat yourself. The eye-candy is overpowering and these folks are all more than pleased to converse about their work and that history behind it. Recall that, should you wish a larger image to examine the details, simply click on the image.

03 May 2011

The Replacements

Lookie what arrive in the mail on Sunday!

That's right, friends... Sunday. At oh-too-early that morning we received a call from the post office in Roanoke letting us know our chicks were in and that we could pick them up there if we were going to be in town. (Otherwise, we could collect them the next morning in Floyd. They'd still be arriving super-fast.) I thought I had another errand in the big city so, after breakfast, I borrowed Mr. Fuzzy's vehicle (mine was in the shop due to some stupidity on my part) and made the drive down the mountain and into the confusing heart of the city.

It being Roanoke, I got lost twice and my GPS couldn't come up with the proper post office. Turned out the materials I needed to pick up weren't in yet, so it wasn't the most wise use of petrol.

I transferred the 50 Red Star and Brown Leghorn chicks (plus my free, rare, exotic, racing-striped, pullet chick) into a fresh box with food & water right there in the car and we merrily completed a couple more errands together in Christiansburg. (It's on the way if you're using the interstate.) By late afternoon, the peepers and I were home and they were settled in their brooder-in-a-brooder box (two hatchery boxes pushed together & lined with feed) for a nice, restful night.

The next morning I removed one of the boxes and let them explore their new home. Here they are mid-day on Monday... already exploring and asking the slightly bigger Miracle Chicks for help and advice. Martha (age 6 weeks) and a Miracle Chick (age about 2 weeks) look on in fascination and horror at the way their peace has been shattered.

Martha & Mary were caught "social pecking" later in the day and (having broken the terms of their brooder rent) were move into the general population. Thankfully, the big girls left room for the terrified Twins.