27 May 2016

Its Summer!

How do you know its summer in Floyd? Three dramatic additions to the landscape:
1. daylilies in bloom (Stella d'Oro here)
2, peonies in bloom
3. Fireflies (or lightning bugs, depending on where in the South you grew up) are dancing all evening in the pastures.

It has rained twelve of the last fourteen days and of course, the skies have been gray. Mostly unseasonable cool temperatures, with morning lows about 50F.

Tuesday and Wednesday were delightfully sunny, stimulating the peonies and early daylilies to explode into bloom after two weeks of holding their buds closed, awaiting just the right ray of sunlight.

Mr. Fuzzy spent two weekends ago with good 18th century friends participating in The Raid at Martin's Station, a recreation of the devastating Cherokee raids on the frontier in the 1770s. The weather was clear and dry, always good since dragging wet canvas tents home in the back of the car ceases to be fun very quickly. The temperatures were surprisingly cold, with the Sunday morning reading being 37F.

The entire event was a fine example of "I get by with a little help from my friends." Having only packed one thin blanket (the three day forecast was terribly wrong), the only way the nights were passable was thanks to loans of blankets from Bill B., Bill C. and George M. Thank you so much my friends, it would have been miserable for my old bones without your kindness.

Due to a single narcissistic personality, the hunters' camp crew found other places to lay their bed rolls, thus dispersing a long standing community of talented re-enactors. One feature of the old camp was gourmet meals, sadly lacking now. Mr. Comer provided your humble correspondent with a much needed black and tan one evening at the new camp and a communal dinner of no mean quality was devoured. Lisa C's strawberry desert was delectable in the extreme. Walking back to my tent, Dolly inquired if I might like a bite of rhubarb pie. Well, do bears have ticks? REAL rhubarb pie, no other fruits. Oh my, the ecstasy after each bite! Thank you so much.

The cultural life in tiny Floyd is always a source for amazement. A few nights ago, The Jacksonville Arts Center hosted two Irish musicians for some wonderful traditional music. Its fair to say everyone present had a fine time listening to the fiddle and accordion duo. He was also a great storyteller in the Irish tradition.

12 May 2016


Despite the odd winter which cycled from frigid to warm throughout the season, it appears that relatively few plants were seriously damaged. A prolonged and very warm spell in December caused some iris to break dormancy and send up leaves. Despite nights in the low single digits, the leaves endured and now have produced some spectacular blooms, both in size and number. Its difficult to appreciate from the image but the deep purple/blue iris blooms are the size of my hand.

The wild iris have also prospered this year. The common blue iris (Iris Virginica) is opening all over the farm, adding those intense touches of blue here and there.

A farm buddy down the road gave me a five gallon bucket load of yellow bog iris (Iris pseudacorus) from his field two years ago. Considered an invasive pest in many areas, these were planted in the "it won't hold water pond" fro whence they are unlikely to escape. Bless his heart, Warren has since died after a valiant battle with cancer - his iris will remind me of our friendship year after year. 

The grasses and attendant weeds are also thriving. After lubricating every grease fitting on the riding mower, it is back in service for the season. Although carrying the Sears brand, it was made by Husqvarna and has been a durable performer under difficult conditions here on the steep landscape. Its main use is around the house, under trees, and on slopes too steep to safely take the big tractor. The wee spreader is handy for applying lime and fertilizer in spot applications.

The Yanmar continues to exceed expectations. The underbelly mower was lubricated, belt checked and remounted tot he tractor (you cannot plow snow with it mounted). Theoretically it is a mower, not a bush hog, but it will whack a fair sized locust with aplomb.

The seedlings are rocketing upward. About five hours were spent yesterday in transplanting wee seedlings i their Jiffy-Pots into 4" pots.

Summer is just around the corner - what will it bring? Wet? Dry? Hot or cold? Or a real surprise, might it be normal?

04 May 2016

Daily Deluge

"In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours." Mark Twain, speech delivered at the New England Society's Seventy-First Annual Dinner, New York City, Dec. 22, 1876.

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg (Virginia) announced that our area was in the first stages of a drought just ten days ago. April was exceptionally dry in a month when spring rains are more typical. After a cold beginning, the month became unseasonably warm. The one exceptional night of 21F (-6C) produced widespread damage on Stratheden's flora. Even the grass in the pastures had growing tips killed. Several small trees that I planted 3-6 years ago and were flourishing had all their brand new leaves frozen. All looked bleak but in the last week, it appears all chlorophyll laden residents of the farm, large and small, have recovered without long term damage. Perhaps the hay yield will be normal.

freeze damaged Golden Rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

My wonderful neighbor came by several weeks ago with his tractor mounted tiller and in about 15 minutes, turned all of the large garden. After letting it remain fallow for all of 2015, the weeds and grass roots were sufficiently large and strong as to choke the small tiller. My deepest thanks to him for saving me a couple of days of hard hand labor. The next step in the large garden is to replace the deer fencing which was damaged badly last winter, presumably by wildlife. Ten 9 foot T-posts await being pounded in to reinforce the extant posts. once that is complete, new deer fencing must be raised. Then, once the area is protected, seedlings may be set and seeds (pumpkins and squash) may be planted. The small garden is about 50% planted with the remaining area awaiting seedlings maturing in peat pots becoming large enough to transplant.

leading edge of the storm
 The farm and flower garden are in bloom. The drought seemed to be slowing the maturity of wild plants but last Saturday, the drought broke dramatically with 1.7 inches of rain, followed by a like amount on Monday. Suddenly, the ground went from being powdery dry to gooey mud. A week ago, my concern was whether garden seeds would germinate due to lack of moisture (the 75F days were otherwise perfect for germination); now the concern is whether they will damp off or drown (tomorrow's high is forecast to be only 51F, too cold for almost any seeds to germinate). As Grandfather Field said, farmers are never content with conditions.

Springtime tasks include tractor maintenance (especially greasing fittings) and the change of accoutrements. After a final pass at grading the driveway to repair the vagaries of winter's influence, the blade is now safely tucked away in the barn, hopefully for the season, replaced by the E Z Lift (the entire swap process without mashing a single finger). With it in place, it can be used in lieu of a ladder to stand on whilst pounding in the T-posts. Much more convenient (and safe) than a step ladder on uneven, soft ground.

And a sample of what is currently blooming around Stratheden Farms:
Clematis on the patio

Cranesbill geranium

Virginia Sneezeweed?
Fire Pink

Five blooms on one stalk

This iris is the size of my hand!

Peonies ready to burst with blooms