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.

26 April 2015

A needed vacation

Dearest Reader.
Mr. Fuzzy deeply apologizes for the month long hiatus in postings.
Between tying up loose ends and 17 days in the Homeland, it has been a while since there was enough time for a coherent post. Now, freshly arrived back from Scotland and not well rested (he vacationed to total contentment and exhaustion), there are some 1,100 images to sort through and friends to thank for being amazing hosts.
Here are two images just to whet your eye's perceptions. The color image is from near Aberfeldy, Scotland, where the poor Ford Focus got a workout for which it was never designed on an ancient one lane dirt track going up a Ben; the view was dramatically improved by rising perhaps 600-800 feet from the main road in the valley bottom. The sepia image is from the ancient English village of Pickering in North Yorkshire. A reminder: you may click on either image top enlarge them to an almost decent viewing size.

There will be much more later once Mr. Fuzzy recovers from jet lack and haggis deprivation. May your past weeks have been as fruitful and peaceful.

29 March 2015

New record low temperatures

Its official - its cold this morning, 18F here at Stratheden Farm. Below is from the National Weather Service:

828 AM EDT SUN MAR 29 2015




BLACKSBURG VA      17 F        17 F (2001)        1952-2015
LYNCHBURG VA       17 F        23 F (1982)        1893-2015
DANVILLE VA        21 F        23 F (1996)        1948-2015
BLUEFIELD WV       18 F        19 F (1966)        1959-2015
LEWISBURG WV       16 F        18 F (1982)        1973-2015


The wood stove is keeping the house warm, fortunately there is no wind; the day is forecast to warm into the forties with fifties to follow soon. The ground remains soft as it is warm so damage to flora may be mitigated. Nonetheless, it looks like every daffodil froze. It remains to be seen how the two-four inch high daylilies have fared.

28 March 2015

Whether winter weather went whither-

Dear Reader,
   Remember the post proclaiming this may be the best bloom year yet for the daffodils? Premature speculation it seems. Thursday was 71F and cloudless most of the day. Yesterday it snowed (see photograph) madly. Today, at 10:00 a.m. on a cloudless morning, the temperature has struggled to warm to 23F (-5C).

   Yesterday's heavy, wet snow bent the blooms over and collapsed their stems (the stem wall in a daffodil bloom is but paper thick). The severe cold last night seems to have "nipped in the bud" the blooms which were about to open. Tonight is forecast to be even colder before a warming trend into the high 60s begins. Perhaps there will be no more showers of brilliant yellow daffodil blooms this Spring.
   Last weekend one task on the "to do" list but not achieved was to clean the fireplace for the season. That would have been a wasted effort! It will be devouring the last bits from the firewood stack at least through mid-day tomorrow.

May you, dear reader, have the good fortune to have missed this last hearty gasp of winter.

25 March 2015

Old friends

Twas a delight recently to host one of my oldest friends; we met so far back in the seventies neither of us can remember the year although the place is certain: The Knox Street Pub (which still serves beer but is nothing like the old hole in the wall and sadly, the old quirky, tree-lined, lovely neighborhood was destroyed, now populated by multi-story commercial buildings). On the other hand, Gary is quite recognizable, the years have had little visual impact. In a world of rapid and chaotic change, there is no other anchor point like an old and dear friend. Many brain cells were sacrificed on the altar of yeast & grain during the visit, old times relived and analyzed, new experiences created and philosophies & sciences debated. We have never been out of touch and it seemed inconceivable that we last saw each others faces in 1997. It was sad to watch his rental car roll down the driveway.

From my end, contact was lost with a number of friends in the turbulent and stressful two-year divorce saga. Its been most excellent to be reacquainted with my brother of a different mother, Kenzo, the most brilliant of 21st century Daguerrians. Its a curiosity of life that being raised in such radically different environments, the outcomes, including physical appearance, were so similar. Our paths collided circa 1979 and have entwined on and off continually since. Surely only a twin can understand the fullness of being with a nearly identical creature; this is not, surely, at that level but it is most reassuring to know he is "out there."

Isn't it one of the great miracles of existence how good friends can pick up where a conversation ended a decade ago as if it were yesterday? What a blessing.

The weather at Stratheden Farms has definitely been in the category of "Spring like." The forecast high for tomorrow is 70F (22C).  And, with the wild weather of the Blue Ridge mountains, the forecast low for two nights later is 25F, or a killing frost... after last weeks snow, an odd phenomenon was observed - snowy spider webs. The ground was too warm for the snow despite subfreezing air temperatures. The snow melted instantly ion the ground but was captured and preserved for a day by the cobwebs.

Plants are bursting forth into new life, buds opening, leaves emerging, flowers shining. It is a good year for daffodils: the percentage of plants bearing blooms is very high, the blooms are large and radiant and clearly the bulbs multiplied nicely since last Spring. The same may be said of the crocus. Tulips are producing larger than usual leaves which hopefully augurs spectacular flowers in a few more days. The first of the forsythia flowers opened today and they, too, seem especially resplendent this Spring. The winter was harsh with wilder swings of temperature than normal, some new growth from the autumn was definitely killed, but overall, perhaps it was the best conditions for many of the resident flora.

This is the time for preventative action on the farm, aka weed control. Wild roses and brambles are a major invasive here and almost impossible to control (never eliminated). In the forest at this time, no small plants or wee bushes have yet emerged, hence the bright green rose stems are easily seen against the brown leaf litter background. Thanks to frost heave and moisture, the soil is friable and the long runner-roots of the roses can be pulled up intact. The thickets of roses must be attacked now, too, but for a different reason: once leafed out, its impossible to see what you are doing. Unless a horticulturist is deeply into self abuse & pain, rose and bramble thickets are best entered whilst wearing heavy denim or canvas jackets, gloves, heavy trousers and of course, gloves. Soon it will be too warm to don such armor; as Confucius said: man working in thorns without armor should not be allowed to bare arms later. It may not look like much, but it required two hours and some minutes to hack into this rose thicket. Now the rose bushes can be attacked the base and huge numbers of thorny stems cut loose by a single cut to the common base.

Spring is also an ideal time to tackle erosion. The soil is easily worked (i.e., not frozen or dry-hard), it can be reseeded and covered by new growth quickly, and this is all best done before Spring rains have an opportunity to exacerbate erosion. Again, it may not appear to be much, but the fill dirt shown represents ten buckets; am so thankful for the Yanmar tractor and its front bucket.

Today was the first day sans farm work after four afternoons of activity. Ye olde body's stiffness and aches suggested a day off might be a fine idea. Gary, tonight I'll have the pleasure of consuming one of the craft beers you gifted. As Grand-daddy said, the two greatest blessings in life are health and friends. Thank you, my friends, for enriching my life in such marvelous manners.