22 April 2014

Spring is here - maybe

This has been a transitional type of day, some spring showers, definitely spring's blustery winds, and the arrival of yet another cold front. The low is forecast to be 37F and if that is correct, all is well at Stratheden. Today two varieties of apples opened their first blooms; virtually every flower seems to have a single petal damaged by last week's hard freeze but the blossoms themselves seem quite viable. The species illustrated above is a dwarf and even the blooms are reduced considerably in size. The two large Mutsu apple trees yielded heavily last year and have almost no blooms whatsoever this year, as is normal. Thus there will not be a surplus of apples this autumn but perhaps just enough.

The large lilac has also opened its first blooms today and is on the verge of exploding into a riot of colurs, textures and perfume. Although short-lived as a cut flower, one cluster can reclaim the air of an entire room in the house.

Hopefully there will be but few frosts remaining in the spring before summer is soon declared. May the weather be as fine where you dwell, dear reader.


19 April 2014

Winter's icy fingers still grasp at the farm

Brace yourself, dear reader, for more whinging about the weather...

Earlier this week, the lows on consecutive nights were respectively: 23, 26, 27 degrees; hard freezes. The day (April 15th, a chilling day in more ways than one) the cold front blew in, the temperature was 58F at sunrise and by sunset had plunged to 29F. The wind was howling all day, sucking the warmth right out of the ground, then ceased early in the night so the cold air could settle on the ground.

I borrowed large black rubber calf feeding tubs from my kind neighbor, Clay, and covered plants with those and five gallon buckets. A bale of straw was broken open and spread over several plant beds surrounding the house. A few small potted plants were carried indoors.

The tulips about to open were cut and placed in vases as were several dozen daffodils, all contributing to a delightful scent and clusters of brilliant colours about the house.

The results after three consecutive freezing nights were not good. The tulips froze, both flower stems and leaves; it remains to be seen if the plants can recover from their prostrate condition. The daffodils had been blooming well - the yellow flowers froze although the white flowers appear to avoided damage (can any reader illuminate us on why the difference?). Peonies were just beginning to emerge from their long sleep and their damage is yet to be determined precisely. At least 80% of the cherry tree blooms were affected. The lilacs and redbuds were just beginning to open and have, a week later, hardly progressed - they may be damaged also.

The single most devastated plants were the wild ferns; 100% are now brown and thoroughly dead. Perhaps the phenomena has simply escaped Mr. Fuzzy's observation in past years but I cannot recall ever seeing fern mortality of this degree before.

Life is nonetheless sprouting all about, well, at least in the Jiffy Pots: marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, etc. In a couple of weeks, the peppers, squashes and eggplants will be started in Jiffy Pots, ready to be planted outdoors by the end of May. Rest assured that all worthy news of Stratheden Farms and its residents will be duly posted for your illumination.

A Happy Easter to all.

04 April 2014

Yellow is the colour of...

Yes, indeed, yellow is the colour of flowers at Stratheden Farms now. The forsythias have just erupted into a explosion of brilliant colours, even on an overcast day like this one. Most years. these glorious flowering shrubs are cautious, slowly opening more and more blooms, but never in profusion; not so this year where they have revealed their radiance in a barrage of blooms.

A few readers have been a bit, well, ummm, grumpy, about the lack of posts. There has been but little news and except for a few sunsets, nothing of any visual quality to share with readers. It has snowed SIX times since the previous post, there are photographic documentations of those days certainly, but it was feared that the repeated mantra of "its snowing again' would bore you, dear reader. The weather has swung wildly most of the calendar year - Sunday morning it snowed, Wednesday is was 77F. Typical. Average last frost is in mid-May but perhaps this year will be an exception. Seeds are germinating in outdoor large pots already.

The snows and wild swings interrupted the flowering of the numerous clumps of daffodils. The first incautious daredevil flowers opened weeks ago and were stunned by the 18F nights that followed the warmth. Nonetheless, no apparent damage was sustained by most plants and they are shining brightly now, not quite yet at their climax but close.

The most certain proof of Spring's true arrival is the blooming of wild flowers and the coltsfoot is always the first to open on the farm. The plant has many medicinal uses but its fame lies in the fact that the blooms appear before the plant produces any leaves, a most unusual trait in the floral tribes.

Leaving the theme of yellow, here is the other wild flower now painting parts of the yard with its beautiful delicate blue. May Spring bring you the renewal of life and hope for the future.

22 February 2014

Can Spring be on the horizon?

Oh, what a difference a week can make at this time of year; the 14th and yesterday:

It was a glorious day today with hardly a cloud to be seen, blazing sun (57F) and dead calm. It begged for outdoor labors, and I fulfilled the call by continuing to eliminate the wild roses which had colonized the back corner of the walled garden. After about an hour and a half of very careful work with a pruner, but few remain for another day's work. Mr. Fuzzy is determined to tame the wilderness there and bring the space into a glory which it has never known.

Whilst struggling with the demon-thorned rose canes, I noticed the first augur of Spring: daffodils emerging from their long slumber through the cold darkness of winter. These pioneers are announcing the impending change of season in small clusters throughout the walled garden.

The temperatures  inverted on Wednesday and since then an inch of rain warmed by 56F air temperature that morning devastated the snow pack. Even on north facing slopes, only tiny traces still remain. The speed of melting was amazing and in combination with the warm rain, water was flowing in every low area. On leaving the farm Thursday, it was evident the large culvert under the driveway at the front of the farm was totally blocked, causing a lake to form and overflow the road. This was a dangerous situation because the ground was so soft the raised driveway could have given way to the water's pressure. After about twenty minutes of using a shovel to pull wet heavy clay from the pipe, the remaining plug was blown out by the water pressure. Since one before-and-after image has already been illustrated, another set seems appropriate:

With the much warmer and dry nights, the some of the felines have enjoyed spending the night i the great outdoors, hunting and scouting for interlopers. Here the night shift catches some well deserved day light shut eye:

What will the coming week bring in temperatures and weather? The National Weather Service is calling for another polar vortex to descend upon the farm with snow and night time lows in the low teens. Which reminds your author of something his Grandfather imparted to him circa 1965: "There are two sorts of fools, plain ordinary fools and those who believe the five day weather forecast." Time alone will reveal.

18 February 2014


 [Sunset last night]

Nothing has been posted for some time, not because of sloth or disregard by Mr. Fuzzy - there simply has been no occurrence worth your time in reading. That abruptly changed a week ago, however, when a near record set of storms dropped 22-26 inches of snow on Floyd county in just 36 hours. The National Weather Service in Blacksburg noted it was the third deepest single snowfall on record for both Blacksburg and Roanoke. Floyd county was the recipient of 22-26 inches; there has been no official weather reporting station in the county since 1941 so there is no data to determine the status of this within history.

  The center "bullseye" included most of Floyd County. The snowfall was so intense that all of the cats, including Buster (of Norwegian Forest Cat heritage), decided to take a two-day cat nap rather than romp in  the snow.

The first storm, the major contributor of snow, began on Wednesday afternoon and lasted until about midday Thursday. A brief respite raised false hopes then the second storm struck with substantial winds and several more inches.

[ominous sunset with the second front coming]

[my county road after being plowed by a neighbor the day before, drifted over by winds of storm #2]

Clearing the 1,700 foot driveway was a major task. The Ford 1700 tractor is small but possesses four wheel drive. However, the snow was so deep that multiple passes had to be made, skimming about 10 inches of snow at a time - otherwise it just came back over the top of the plow blade. Every fifteen feet or so, the the accumulated snow had to be pushed to the side (while being certain the tractor didn't go over the embankment with it...). Very slow going. It took about six hours to open the drive after the first storm.

After the second storm, with new accumulation and considerable drifting, there was a new problem: the
snow banks created by the first clearing prevented pushing new snow off on either side. Now the snow walls had to be skimmed THREE passes at a time and the new snow pushed off the track. At the head of the driveway, where it meets the county road, the drifting was over three feet deep - the tractor simply sat too low to clear it. Thank goodness for neighbors - the same gentleman who plowed out the country road came back to reopen it and made a short diversion onto the driveway to open the last fifty feet. Bless his heart and his diesel!

There were surely abundant photographic opportunities but Mr. Fuzzy was too worn out from snow clearing (much had to be done with a shovel around the car and the turn-around) to walk in the deep snow. Below are a few images which may be enjoyed by the reader...

10 January 2014

wild winter weather

The severe arctic system that froze much of America managed to reach its icy tentacles as far south as Stratheden Farm. The temperature at sunrise last Tuesday was -5F, and felt colder because the wind had blown all night. Thanks to careful preparation, the structures suffered no known damage. However, the Saturday before, the temperature had suddenly dropped to +9F, which doesn't seem so terrible but the wind that night was gusting to over 40 mph and the electricity went out from about 2:30 a.m. until around 5:00 a.m. Alas, that meant the small electric heater which heats the mechanical room to about 40F in the winter was not functioning and sure enough, the copper pipes froze and burst in four places. +9F with gale winds proved enough to freeze the heated dog bowl into a solid glacial mass with beautiful tiny ice crystals on the surface like skaters on a miniature ice rink.

Stratheden's plumber came arrived within an hour of the distress call and replaced said burst copper pipes with PEX, which should never suffer the same fate. Mr. Fuzzy acted as his assistant (the difficulty of moving in the mechanical room demands an assistant free to move outside of the appliances). Now Mr. F. came down with (probably) the flu on new Year's Day but was making a good recovery. Four hours in 10F gusty air was enough to set him back into negative territory. It was cold enough that Buster, who rarely spends any time inside during the daylight hours, did not venture outdoors for three days but stayed by the fire.

Both of those frigid air masses blew out as rapidly as they arrived for which all living things were grateful. This morning the low was 32F but rainy and foggy. The thermometer rose all day and even now after dark, has yet to retreat. Tomorrow is forecast to reach 55F but rain once again. To be honest, Mr. Fuzzy and neighbors are content for it to rain as long as it remains above freezing. Thus far, no snow has fallen, for which we are thankful although it is the major source of nitrogen replenishment of the soil so several wet snows that wished no to linger would be appreciated.

The rain and fog today reminded Mr. Fuzzy of one of the days spent in Scotland last October. Whilst motoring from Edinburgh to the Borders, a short detour from the direct route was taken in order to visit Snailholm Tower. Sir Walter Scott's grandparents owned Sandyknowe Farm there when he was young. His health was deemed fragile from is bout with polio (1773) and it was considered that the clean fresh air of the country was more healthful than the smoky capitol city's air. Scott credited the tower as one of the reasons he acquired such an interest in Scottish antiquity.

Mr. Fuzzy fervently hopes that this digression will be forgiven by the reader; perchance the reader will also find pleasure in these views of Snailhome and its immediate environs.

29 December 2013

Some color

In the grey doldrums of midwinter, when the sun is but a brief visitor to the day and colors are nearly absent, a bit of splashy color from autumn my be just the tonic you need. Here is my Impressionist rendering of Edinburgh Castle last October, when the trees of Princes Street Garden boldly frame the famous fortress. Mr. Fuzzy hopes it will brighten your day a tad. You may click on it to enlarge and perhaps you will find the effect more pronounced at the larger size...