18 May 2014

Winter kill et all

     Yesterday was the annual community flea market hosted by Citizen's Coop (the provider of telephone, internet and cable in Floyd county). Lots of junque being sold by folks who bought it in a fever at the market last year, took it home and then wondered why they bought it. My attendance was due solely to two women who sell fine quality nursery plants; restrainer meself and only paid $1.25 for three heirloom tomato plants. The conversation of those inspecting the plants was intriguing and validated the effects of winter on the flora here at Stratheden Farms.

     Several silver haired ladies noted they lost all of their crape myrtles; the one here sustained damage on a branch by branch basis, some unscathed and others dead. About half of the roses here were frozen to death, even the miniatures which are very cold tolerant. The hyrangea died to to the ground but seems to be reviving from the roots. The butterfly bush (Buddleai davidii) which was huge, old and well established has perished entirely. On the other hand, the viburnums are superb this year and the fruit trees look quite happy.

     This same conversation had been held over lunch with two farmer neighbors, both of whom noted the same destructiveness of the winter. Four and five winters back were colder, more sustained cold and deep laying snow but had little deleterious effects on the plants. What has prospered this year, alas and alack, are the poison ivy and wild briars, which are appearing everywhere.

    Since no herbicides are used at Stratheden Farms, yours truly mechanically controls weeds. Normally small weeds (such as Carolina horse nettles, Solanum carolinense) are cut down by the hoe and larger ones such as privet are extracted by using welder's gloves. Due to the profusion of undesirables this spring, something faster is required: the brush scythe. There are at least two forms of blades for scythes: reaping and brush. Thanks to friend Joseph P., a top quality Austrian brush blade was purchased last autumn on eBay for less than 50% of the normal price. Brush blades are stouter, straighter and shorter - they are hell on briars, Scottish thistles, blackberries, milk weed, etc., basically, all the larger invading species.

The top blade is a reaping or grass blade, the lower a brush blade.

Despite the cold winter, the compost piles proceeded as normal. The manures (chicken and cow) had become fine powders and even the fair-sized bits of wood decayed nicely. The reason was the profusion of mycelium, the white thread-like structures in the photograph. Should you think that this is inconsequential, the largest living organism on earth is a 2,400 acre mycelium in Oregon. There is strong evidence that the presence of them in the soil is a key to healthy plants.

One last plant which is prospering: the poppies, great cheer in the garden and a color counterpoint to the blue iris, which are also blooming in abundance this year.

And this, dear reader, brings you up to date on the flora of the farm.

09 May 2014

Dig it

A dear friend from The West paid the farm the honor of a repeat visit last month. He was able to stay for more than a week and we pursued many activities on and about the farm.

One day was especially nice weather and we were enjoying a stroll when I mentioned using a metal detector to find artifacts from previous residents of the farm, probably in the the last half of the 19th century. There appears to be a large area of scattered trash below the house, extending at least as far down hill as the small garden (where the debris was first spotted when doing the initial tilling five years and some months ago).

He was excited about hunting with the metal detector so as Mr. Fuzzy operated the device, Martin wielded the excavating tool (i.e., a shovel) with aplomb. In not much more than an hour, we had found cast iron, glass, ceramic and charcoal. The most interesting find thus far at Stratheden is the oval shaped ring at center; it is a silver plated harness guide, an object likely owned by a wealthy person. How it became junk on the farm is a mystery. The shot shell head can be dated fairly closely by the manufacturer's lifespan - it must be before 1911. Mr. Fuzzy has found more cast iron bits previously and has to wonder how so many cast iron pots and pans came to an untimely end.

A local iron smelter was operated from 1852 until about the Civil War. I have to wonder if these were created there rather than imported into the county. The local iron had an unusual level of copper and thus these bits could be analyzed to see if there is a match.

Who knows what will be found next? Adventure awaits at every corner of the farm.

03 May 2014


Most of the time, pinholes are considered undesirable, such as a pinhole air leak in a tire. There is nonetheless a long history in photography dating at least to the early 1850s (Sir David Brewster in St. Andrews, Scotland) of utilizing a pinhole rather than a glass optic to form an image on film.

Lenses form an image through the operation of refraction; pinholes form an image by diffraction (which lenses want to avoid). A well made pinhole cannot form an image as sharp as a good lens but it is nearly the equal of the optical system composing the human eye. It has many advantages including cost (nearly free), no maintenance, perfectly rectilinear and nearly infinite depth of field as well as depth of focus (behind the pinhole, i.e., inside the camera). A wide angle 8x10 inch pinhole camera made of cardboard might cost as much as $10 - whereas an 8x10 camera with a wide angle lens is likely to start at about $3,000.

Mr. Fuzzy probably has close to a dozen pinhole cameras or adapters, made by friends as gifts, made by friends as prototypes to be tested, commercial products and those made by Himself.  There are several 8x10 cameras, adapters to use on standard view cameras of various sizes, adapters for 35mm cameras & digital equivalents, a 5x7 camera made by Mr. Fuzzy (a real favorite), several 4x5 cameras and several 6x9 cm cameras. The latter use 120 roll film and allow six exposures without reloading - that plus easy portability caused Mr. Fuzzy to opt for two of them for World Wide Pinhole Day, always the last Sunday in May.

WWPD is a remarkable event: world wide, unjuried, free, and the images are posted forever on the WWPD web site (www.pinholeday.org). Most of the images therein are rather pedestrian but perhaps 1 in 100 makes your search worthwhile.

Mr. Fuzzy made this image with a curved film plane 6x9 camera which covers a very wide angle, perhaps 120 degrees. The lower portion of the image is about 18 inches from the camera.


The following image is also 6x9 cm but the film plane is flat thus it covers a much smaller angle and is about a normal angle, or 45 degrees. This image is not as sharp as the one above because the pinhole I made is not as perfect as it might be. This camera was made by a dear friend in Scotland, Peter Goldsmith, and it has been a pleasure to use for almost a decade. Peter, thanks again for the wonderful gift!

Mr. Fuzzy gave a short lecture to a class at the local arts centre immediately preceding WWPD. The students are so excited that they have asked the arts centre to provide space for a pinhole club to meet - and the answer from the director was in the affirmative. A pinhole camera club will be formed forthwith!