31 May 2015

Classic American Automobiles

It is sad to contemplate but unless you are in your dotage, like your humble correspondent, you cannot remember the time when American automobiles were the pinnacle of transportation engineering, the envy of the world for style, durability, comfort and technological innovation. How Pontiac, Rambler, Hudson, Nash, Crosley ( my dad had one in the early 1950s which regularly achieved over 30 miles per gallon), Kaiser, Packard, Studebaker, oh I cannot go on, it is far too depressing. How did they go from market dominance to bankruptcy so quickly? And Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, who gave the world the body and interior designs held as classics today, how did they lose their way?

Chantilly Festival Farm here in Floyd held its annual car show and parts swap this weekend. The weather was cooperative, the crowds good and the cars, well, GREAT. Nice to see hot rods, rat rods and restored bodies fender-to-fender, shining brilliantly in the abundant sun beams.

Classic hot rod chrome and paint

Rat Rod

Thunderbird, the last great original American design

Having pretensions to being an artiste, Mr. Fuzzy cannot leave a good image alone. Please click to enlarge those below, otherwise the subtleties will be lost.

There was another engaging event in Floyd on Saturday but that will wait for the next post. Enjoy your weekend, dear reader.

28 May 2015

its official

Well, we all knew it here in the county but now its official - the Department of Agriculture's "drought monitor" has declared the area "abnormally dry." The last rain was about three weeks ago and only half an inch. This does not augur well for the summer. The garden soil is powder-dry and the plants require watering. The irony is that for the last three weeks, at least three days per week have been forecast to have at least a 50% chance of precipitation, some days, 80%, and yet nothing, not even threatening clouds.

25 May 2015

going Rogue

Its been dry here at Stratheden Farms. The last decent rain, half an inch, was a fortnight ago. In the interval, it has been warm and breezy, sucking moisture from both soil and plants. The subsoil moisture was enough to sustain life but today there are signs appearing on both trees and smaller plants that they are in need of water. The national Weather Service has forecast rain every week for the last three weeks, and only one has materialized, noted above. The forecast beginning tomorrow is for about five days of precipitation, which would be very pleasant.

Many farmers have used this dry spell to mow & bale their hay. We are hoping for this rainy spell to give one last boost to the plants before mowing. Like everything else in farming, its a gamble. This time last year produced a record hay yield from the farm but this year will likely be less than 75% of that amount. Below is a photo made today along Highway 8 between Floyd and Christiansburg with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

It was a red letter day for Mr. Fuzzy. The venerable 2004 Honda CRV has 200,000 miles on it now and some of the electronics have developed pesky problems. It has performed yeoman's work on the farm for six and a half years, towing trailers full of gravel, mulch, fencing supplies, towing the tractor out of the mud, etc.But its reliability on a long trip is now in doubt.

After much research, inspections, test drives and cogitation, a new Nissan Rogue was purchased today from New River Nissan in Christiansburg. The salesman, Stanley Foulkes, was nice to work with, a good person and extremely knowledgeable. Here he is about to hand over the "keys" (its a keyless car, that and many other high tech features are going to take some learning at Mr. Fuzzy's end). Very few automobiles met all my criteria, which included:
all wheel or four wheel drive
good sized cargo space
good ground clearance (4WD is pretty useless without it)
at least 30 mpg on the highway

Ye olde Honda will be have its category changed at the DMV office to "farm use only" which will cut the cost of keeping it to almost nothing. It was worth less than $4,000 to trade in and this seemed a more noble application. The CRV will still perform the hard work, including local hauling & towing tasks, thereby allowing the Rogue to remain pristine (with some luck).

Let's hope the Rogue gives such good service as the CRV. It should.

16 May 2015

Flowers everywhere!

Despite an odd winter which constantly cycled back and forth from cccccold temperatures to record breaking warmth, most of the trees and plants seem to have weathered it well. The prior winter was more typical and never got as cold but caused more floral losses.

I'm conflicted about being where nearly every type of tree has a significant flower bloom. Yes, it causes severe allergies but my, oh my, Mother Nature has decorated trees more spendidly than a Christmas tree. Especially outstanding this year are the tulip poplars and the locusts. The flower of the tulip poplar, if not dislodged by wind or hail, becomes 'woody' and makes a fine everlasting decoration for dried arrangements and wreaths. If you look in the bottom left corner, one from last year, much abused by the elements, is still attached.

Easy to see why it was named "tulip" poplar

a detail of the "tulip"

flowers on a locust tree

The wildflowers are also prospering thus far. Currently in bloom are greater tickseed, fire pink (aka catchfly), a bumper crop of blackberry blooms that should provide a bountiful harvest for both the human and the bears on Stratheden Farm. Already bloomed out are the cherries, dogwoods and red buds trees. The coltsfoot has gone to seed.

Of special mention this year are the globular buttercups. The flowers are larger, there are more flowers per cluster and the number of clusters is at least thrice the norm. The meadow below the house must have upwards of 10,000 buttercups brightening the landscape.

Yes, indeed, this is an earthly paradise.

05 May 2015

Priceless Neighbors

Today was 79F degrees and felt every bit of it. Summer has arrived early. Have never seen blooms still on dogwoods and such high temperatures simultaneously. Not only is the air warm but so is the ground - meaning its time to direct sow seeds into the gardens.

Of course the gardens need to be cleaned up and tilled to be prepared for planting. Alas, Mr. Fuzzy is not up to the task of using the hand tiller - the flu robbed all the energy reserves. Twenty minutes of moderate labor is followed by near complete exhaustion.

A dashing knight on a silver steed to his rescue; also known as the Great Neighbor, Clay, on his old and venerable Long tractor, bearing a rear mounted tiller.  Because of its width and forward speed, Clay was able to achieve in about twenty minutes what the hand tiller would produce in an afternoon (or longer).

Clay saved the bacon of the farm by preparing the garden for seeding. The time is NOW - by the time Mr. Fuzzy has his strength back, even if recovery is as rapid as a fortnight, the window to plant some seeds would have been passed. Thank you, Clay.

Late in the day as the temperatures began a slow decline and a light breeze developed, Mr. Fuzzy did manage to mow for about 45 minutes. As his attention began to drift, it was time to cease operation. A trio of whirling blades cutting a 60 inch wide path is too dangerous to operate without total focus.

My grandfather contended that the two greatest blessings in life were health and good neighbors. Stratheden Farm is extremely fortunate to have great neighbors. We count our blessings.

03 May 2015

Cough, hack, sputter...

It was nothing less than a miracle: virtually every day Mr. Fuzzy was in Scotland and England contained some sunshine, in fact, most days were entirely sunny. The mercury soared to 65F one the final days, a summer time reading. The image to the left is from the last full day trodding Sacred Soil. Scotland has always treated Mr. Fuzzy well and this adventure was no exception. Except for a missed connection with friends in Glasgow, its challenging to consider how this tour could have been better.

Arriving late in the evening in Washington, DC, the night was spent at a nearby hotel. The next morning saw a short jaunt almost directly west to attend the premier 18th century trade fair in the South: Fort Frederick, Maryland. If it looks cold - it was! The high temperature was about 44F and although Mr. Fuzzy was headed homeward by then, it snowed the next morning. Time there was brief, just four hours, not even long enough to visit all friends but better than nothing.

The first day back on Stratheden Farm was more like Scotland than Scotland had been - a day long fog and very cool. A neighbor reported it rained at least every third day whilst Mr. Fuzzy was in sunny Scotland, where it rained but once.

Mr. Fuzzy ran hard in Scotland & England, so many friends to enjoy, so many new adventures to find, old sacred sites to revisit, and not the least, the world class cuisines now found in almost any village. British cooking used to be, deservingly, the butt of many jokes, but that has dramatically shifted in just the last few years. Much more on that in a subsequent post.

Between running to near exhaustion, the afternoon in the chill of Fort Frederick, the cold humidity of the farm, and a huge dose of nearly crippling hay fever (from mowing about 3 acres), perhaps it is not remarkable to note that by Tuesday, Type B influenza put the traveler into bed for the next five days; only today has the fever-fog lifted. This experience could have been omitted, if anyone had just inquired... just when the farm needs immediate attention, sigh.

Stay well.