22 May 2013

Sweet and Sour

Mr. Fuzzy returned from the Fort Frederick & Kentucky journey a bit tired and with prodigious sinus production. Two days later, it made a turn for the worse and Mr. Fuzzy was bedridden. After three trips to doctors over fourteen days, the problem is still unclear except that the lungs were struck and a ten day asthma attack was part of the mix. Sinus cavities and lung lobes are at long last back to normal but stamina and strength still prove elusive.

Even these pregnant does realized Mr. Fuzzy was no real threat as he yelled at them from the the front door. Only when the dogs of war (Rufus & Rocky) were loosed did they meander elsewhere. From the four does observed this week, they should be giving birth any day now.

Although Mr. Fuzzy still was running a low grade fever and was more than his usual level of fuzzy-minded, he managed to attend Rebecca Shannon's class on making vinegar. It was a most interesting class full of learning and theory but the unique portion was taste testing some of Rebecca's various vinegars. Most of the class preferred the maple-syrup vinegar but it was too sweet for Himself. He has begun two vinegars, one based on red wine, the other on white wine; he had never tasted a white wine vinegar until the class and found it a most appealing flavour.

The flame azaleas (R. calendulaceum) have begun their spectacular bloom, shaming all else which bloometh in the forest at this or any other time. There are two basic colours with many shades, orange and yellow-peach. There are some at Stratheden Farms but the Blue Ridge Parkway is lined with thousands of fine specimens in their great glory.

More subtle & modest are the two varieties of wild iris found on the farm.  The native blue flag iris (Iris virginica L.) is ubiquitous in this area and are found in numerous sites at Stratheden. Some are natural and others are where Mr. Fuzzy has transplanted them; they seem thrive in damp or dry conditions, full sun or half-day shade. They are smaller than modern garden iris but no less beautiful.

The other native iris found on the farm is the brilliant yellow bog iris (Iris pseudacorus), a plant so successful that it is considered invasive. Unlike its blue cousin, this only lives in wetlands. Although considered invasive, it is an excellent solution to erosion; the roots run six to eight inches deep and are strongly interlocked from plant to plant... and they are beautiful during their relatively brief bloom period. Flowers are only fresh for one day and the group will be in bloom only a week or so. A damp meadow filled with this brilliant yellow is a sight to beheld.

The Creator surely blessed the Blue Ridge region more than its share of beauty.

13 May 2013

Time to start seeds

It is undoubtedly time to start seeds in peat pots; in fact, perhaps the task  should have been initiated a fortnight ago. Despite the high temperatures experiences in the last two months, it is the lows which much concern the gardener. At sun rise this morn, the temperature was a scanty 37F and tonight is forecast to be somewhat colder. Then by Wednesday, a high of 84F (no, dearest reader, that is not a typographical error).

Despite the irregular conditions, some flowers are ahead of schedule. For example, the clematis to the left, which burst into exquisite bloom this very day. One iris next to a west facing wall should open in a day or two and the poppies blooms are round and full, ready to erupt into colour.

It is perhaps past time to relate some of the successes of the 2012 vegetable garden. Going against tradition, Mr. Fuzzy planted several hybrid varieties and was more than amply rewarded by their bounty. Sunburst Hybrid Patty Pan Squash produced dozens of large patty pans per plant, beautiful and flavorful, they dominated the kitchen larder for two months before succumbing to an infestation of squash bugs.

Cucumbers brought pounds of produce to the kitchen. Some were pickled, some were salad makings. Alibi Hybrid Pickling Cucumber was said to be edible if picked young and this was true. Mr. Fuzzy is not a major fan of cukes but this variety made him reconsider. The other very successful cucumber was a venerable old variety, Edmunton. Delicious fresh and superb pickled. Both varieties yielded bushels of produce until the plague of stem borers struck. By that time, Mr. Fuzzy couldn't look at another cucumber.

Not as prolific as those listed above, Hokkaido Stella Blue winter squash deserves special mention for outstanding flavor. Each one was about 2 to 3 pounds, an enchanting blue color on the exterior and a rich orange meat which beyond any doubt was the most flavorful of the squashes Mr. Fuzzy ever masticated. Only two squash per plant - thus this year about a dozen plants will be cultivated with hopes of enough to last through the winter.

Various sorts of peppers yielded well and were robustly flavored. World Beater bell pepper was a heavy yielder per plant and they were delicious. Italian sweet pepper seemed a delicate plant but the brilliant red succulent peppers were well worth the land space. Gourmet sweet pepper (both of these peppers were sourced from Territorial Seed) plants looked sickly and frail but pumped out the peppers and were off the charts sweet when lightly roasted over a hot fire.

All of these will be replanted again this year and a favorite from two years ago, Seminole winter squash as well. These flesh colored squash were said to "store well" and indeed, beyond all expectations, they were edible for ten months and kept without decay or mold for an amazing fourteen months.

So, there dear reader, you can see the core of this year's produce garden. May your garden prosper and provide your family with healthy and flavorful nutrition this summer and autumn.

11 May 2013

Move over Seattle

Dearest Readers,

Today marked the sixth day it has rained in the last seven days. No, this is not normal here in the Blue Ridge mountains. There has not been an official rain reporting station in the county since just before World War II but general consensus is that normal annual precipitation approximated 46 inches. A friend who keeps very detailed weather records reported to me last night he has measured 36 inches of rain this year - so far. The temperatures continue to rock back and forth - tomorrow night is forecast to sink to 32F, many people have already planted gardens (a tad premature here) and are waiting with baited breath to see if it is a killing frost. The plants are very young and tender so it wouldn't require require a temperature much below freezing.

On the positive side, the grasses are growing beautifully and some cool season grasses are already seeding. Buttercups are in abundance and the ferns seem to be delighted with the dampness.

Just before sunset tonight, the light had a beautiful quality both in color and diffusion. There was so much water vapor because the temperature was approaching the dew point that there was a Scottish mist all about, not enough to be visible unless one examined conditions most carefully, but enough to gently diffuse the rays of the setting sun. Alas, this image is but a poor approximation of the beauty.

The relatively cool temperatures and more than adequate rainfall has aided the blooming trees in holding their flowers for an extraordinary period. This native Dogwood first came into bloom almost a month ago and still is bright ans shiny. The grass color may look like a digital artifact but it is accurate - Ireland is no greener than Stratheden Farm at the moment.

06 May 2013

Fort frederick Colonial Trade Fair

Fort Frederick is one of the few French & Indian War sites in the South and perhaps the only stone star fort (as per Sebastien de Vauban's treatise, then considered the state of the art in fortification). Begun in 1756, it was never completed as envisioned because the colonial assembly cut off funding in 1758. It never saw hostile  military action; its major impact was as a staging area. During the Revolutionary War, it was a prison for thousands of British soldiers.

Located near Big Pool, Maryland, it is easily reached by those living along I-81 today. As a Maryland state park today, it comes to life several times during the year - the largest event is the Spring colonial trade fair with about 200 vendors of quality period wares. Their items are more carefully vetted than at many other sites and many true masters of their crafts sell here.

Mr. Fuzzy enjoys this annual event more for the opportunity to visit with friends than to purchase articles of delight. He offers this visual review of the 2013 event:

The talented silhouettist who is also a phrenologist. Mr. Fuzzy resisted for two days but finally placed a $10 bill in her palm for a reading. Her accuracy was scary.

 A boot black, surely a common trade in period, but Mr. Fuzzy has never seen one at an event before.

 Bill Bischer, knife maker

 Joseph & Sue, made the plates and many cups for Stratheden House. Good friends and very dear people.

 Allan Sandy, a very talented gun maker; Mr. Fuzzy admits to lusting after the double barreled fowler shown here...

 Tim Walsh who created the two tin chandeliers in Stratheden House and all of its lanterns both indoors and out.

 Jymm Hoffman and his appretice.

 A scurrilous crew indeed

There were many fine ladies fashions present.