Winter solstice

Winter solstice

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Getting Fat and Lazy

         Is it possible that it has been over two months since my last post? Where does the time go? In that last two months we have gone through another beautiful, but fleeting autumn. The leaves are all down resting on the ground now. We have had several snows, no great accumulation, just a few inches here and there. November was one of the coldest I can remember but so far, December has been rather warm. No frozen water bottles or troughs and with that, plenty of mud. I would prefer the ground freeze and stay that way until spring. It makes for a much cleaner house...
         Our Halflinger, Luke, is back here on the farm and we have been enjoying working with him. We are in the process of breaking him to ride and drive but as is the way of most Halflingers, he is already pretty much broke. He is calm and willing to do just about whatever you ask, as long as it means being around people. He loves to nuzzle barn kitties and is getting used to having sheep and goats mill around his legs and feet. Megg moves a little fast for him but he already knows that if I'm there, so is the black and white dog. We are a team. I have learned a lot about Border Collies in the last two and a half years. Of all the dogs I've owned in my life, I've never had one like Megg. She is a mind reader and knows what I want or need, sometimes before I do. I have to be careful what I say because if I raise my voice to anything, she is right there to back me up, whether I want it or not. That can get us both into trouble sometimes. We have a new ram this year, Wooliam. He is a registered Coopworth. I had no intention on bringing him home this spring but when we went to the farm to pick up a ewe lamb, he had been neglected by his mother and was so weak, he could barely walk. I had the ewe lamb under my arm and on the way to the truck, only to find Emilee had tucked Wooliam up under her arm and was following me. I said "What are you doing?" and she said " You don't think we're leaving him here, do you?"  She bought the weak, tiny thing for twelve dollars and that's how we got Wooliam. He came home and was nursed back to health by lots of warm goat milk. He is now a beautiful specimen of a black ram and he also has been taking care of business with our ewes. Along with that, he feels like he's the boss. The other day, I was doing chores in the barn and I guess Wooliam thought I needed out. It all happened so quick but he must have tried to head butt me. However , he wasn't taking into consideration the little black and white dog, who always has my back. Before he ever got to me, he received a crunch across the bridge of his nose. He was so shocked and so was I. How did Megg know he was going to do that? It just never ceases to amaze me, how smart she is. What did I ever do without her? I know I have gotten a few good head butts....
           And since we're talking about dogs...we will have a new face around here in a couple of weeks. Our Great Pyrenees, Teton, is now ten years old. He is really starting to slow down and I know he is ready for some help. We are buying a Karakachan puppy. These dogs are guardian dogs from Bulgaria. They protect the flocks from bears and wolves over there. Hopefully, here it will just be coyotes. His name is Kaloyan, which means "handsome gift of God" in Bulgarian. The breeder, who is a good friend of mine, picked out one of the pups for me. She knew what I was looking for. We got to go see the litter a couple of weeks ago. When we walked in the barn, all the pups were lying down or eating. I went into the pen and Kaloyan saw me and came over to me wagging his tail. It was as if he knew who I was! He was the only pup to come to me. He is so handsome and I know he will take good care of his flock. Teton will be here to show him the ropes and I'm so glad that he will have the greatest teacher. I have never worried about our sheep or goats with Teton in charge but we have come to a point where he needs help. Kaloyan will have some big paws to fill but I have all the confidence in the world that he can do it. 
            Life around here has settled into late fall and early winter. Does and ewes are all bred and just getting fat and lazy. On nice days they venture out into pasture to munch a dry leaf or a blade of dry grass but most days are spent lounging in the warm barn, eating hay and then lying down, chewing their cud. It's a lazy time of year. For us too, we spend a lot of time in front of the fire, just getting fat and lazy too. 'Tis the season. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


         The fog is thick this morning. Thick enough to coat every orb spider web with tiny drops of dew. Every leaf is bordered with a string of dew pearls. The Touch-Me-Nots are glistening with thousands of sparkling drops. The sheep's wool is damp with dew, even though they've only been out of the barn for a few minutes. The Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate is encased with droplets. Through the fog, I see leaves of red, orange and yellow peeking through. There is the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Oh, how I love Fall, even though it's the most fleeting of seasons. It seems as if it only lasts a few short weeks.
              Everywhere you go, you see pumpkins and fall displays. We West Virginians know how to do it right. We know what's coming after these gorgeous Indian Summer days. So we really go all out for Fall. There is a feeling of urgency in the air. I think of all the things that need to be done before that first snowflake falls. Today I must gather black walnuts. We eat the nuts in fudge and cookies but I also use the husks to dye wool. They make the most beautiful brown dye. The last of the Indian Corn is to be harvested today. There are still some hot peppers that need to come out of the garden and then we can turn the goats in to do the clean up. So much to be done, so little time. I hope you are enjoying these days, I know I am savouring each and every one.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Unlikely Friends..

       This summer I have spent time with some unlikely friends. They're not my typical kind of people but I have decided to give them a try. I'm attempting to see their side of things and trying not to judge them.
         I would love for you to meet Ophelia. If you come to my backyard, you can see her anytime of day. Her house is located between one of the rosebushes and a giant sedum bush. She is a beautiful yellow and black orb spider. She started out as this tiny little thing and her web was only about four inches across. She has grown to be huge and her web is bigger than a dinner plate. Everyday she catches a bug and wraps it up so nicely and then sucks the blood out of it. She and I have had great conversations and I do my best to keep the kittens from wrestling around her web and tearing it up. When I mow the grass in the back yard, I have to do it so that the grass blows away from the pond. Imagine my horror when I was mowing along the other day and all of a sudden I looked up to see I was blowing grass all over Ophelia. I had forgotten all about her! There she was, holding on for dear life to her web, trying not to get blown into the next county. I stopped the mower to check on her. She was a bit rattled to say the least. Her beautiful web was in shreds. Pieces of grass were hanging from what was left. I felt terrible and I kept apologizing. She ignored me as usual. I kept checking on her the rest of the afternoon and she was still there. I completely expected the next day to find that she had packed up and left me but no, there she was the next morning. Her web was like brand new, sparkling with dew drops. Even her back was covered in tiny drops. I'm not sure if it was dew drops or sweat because the poor girl had obviously worked all night long fixing what I had destroyed. I guess she has forgiven me and decided to stick around. I'm glad and I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the summer with her. I need to figure out a new direction to mow however....
          One of my other friends lives in my pallet flower garden beside the garage. I named him Moses. He started out as a tiny little brown twig. He is a praying mantis. I didn't know that they start out brown but he did. He has grown into a magnificent dark green specimen. He hides down in the wax begonias during the morning because the sun shines on this wall and gets quite warm. But as soon as the sun rises up high enough that the garage shades the pallet garden, you can see Moses moving around among the flowers. He especially doesn't like it when I water. I have to be very careful not to get water on his back because he hates it. I have to wait for him to move so that each
plant gets watered. We have a system, he and I, and it works. If I'm very careful not to get him wet, he will perch up on top, with his hands clasped in prayer. I think he's praying for me and I'm glad because I always need prayer.
            And then there's King Saul, the dragonfly who reigns over the pond and Ezmarelda, the frog. I could go on and on but you just need to come visit with them sometime. They have a lot to say, if you listen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Last Days of Summer

      I have been making an effort to really enjoy these last days of summer. The Farmers Almanac is predicting another ferocious winter, perhaps even worse than last year. I always get a little sad to see my flowers all fading and going to seed. I spend my evenings gathering seeds and deciding which ones I will grow again next year. Some of the garden is dwindling down, thank goodness and I don't have to spend all my days in the kitchen canning. The kale and Swiss chard are so lush and huge. The rabbits and chickens are enjoying the extra. I have some late Flat Dutch cabbage that is ready to pick. I'm waiting for the signs to be right, to make some sauerkraut, then I will can it up for the winter.
       A couple of nights ago, I decided to stay out on the swing until it was dark. I sat there swinging, listening to the crickets and night bugs start their chorus. The bats were dropping out of the bat house one by one. They do that so quickly and quietly, if you blink you will miss it. Some of them dip down to the pond for a drink before they start their fluttering flight in the sky above me. The barn swallows were twittering and chattering as they made they way in for the night. I could hear the chickens going to bed, squabbling as usual as they pick their spot on the perch. Every once in a while you hear a thud as someone gets kicked off and has to pick another place. A frog was croaking just a few feet away, buried in the Black-eyed Susans. Just one lone frog instead of the early summer band. The Kiss  Me Over the Garden Gate was nodding in the evening breeze. It was getting darker and darker. I could count three lightening bugs flying around the pond. Suddenly, something flew by me. I had to strain my eyes in the dark to see what it was. I knew it was too late for a hummingbird but that's what it looked like. I kept watching for it and finally, over by the bench, I could see it. It was dipping and hovering over the cleome, going from blossom to blossom. I knew it couldn't be a hummer and then it dawned on me. I was seeing a Sphinx Moth. All of a sudden, I was taken back to a little girl sitting out with her grandpa on the Mojave Desert in the cool evenings. He and I would sit out and wait for the Sphinx Moths to come out and get their evening drink of nectar from the flowers. I remember Grandpa Keddy would call them his "ladies of the evening". We would sit there together until it would get too dark to see. Now here I sat, watching this beautiful moth going from flower to flower. She was huge, looking bigger than a hummingbird. I watched her until it got so dark I couldn't see her anymore. By this time, the cricket chorus had tuned up and was getting quite loud. I was so glad that I had stayed out so late. In just a couple months by this time of night, I would be snuggled in flannel sheets, under a down comforter.
       Later on, I did some research on the Sphinx Moth and discovered that the horrible Horned Tomato Worm, the same worm that I have squashed so many times, is the larvae of the Sphinx Moth. From now on, I will let them live and share my tomatoes with them. I'll just plant a few extra plants. After all, the beauty of this giant moth is better than a tomato any day.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Feeling Fall...

             I looked at the date of my last post and I couldn't believe it said August 1st! How does this happen? Life seems to be flying by.  We have had such a crazy summer...wait, have we had summer yet? It has been so cool and rainy. I can't imagine that the pools around here have been very busy. We have had morning temperatures down to 45. Thirteen more degrees and we would have frost! Yikes! Even with all the crazy weather, the garden has thrived. I have been canning up a storm and the pantry is filling up. Today I will be canning chili tomatoes and freezing more corn. So far, I have frozen 18 pounds and have that much out in the garden to do. When I cut it off the cob, I weigh it on a kitchen scale as I put it in the freezer bags. This way I can keep the bags the same size and I know how much I have. We also have enough spaghetti squash out there for an army. Not sure what to do with all of that. The chickens might be going to benefit from that surplus. All in all though, we are so thankful for yet another great garden year.
          We are back to foggy mornings now. Every orb spider web is outlined in dew. The school bus rumbled by for the first time this year as I was finishing the milking this morning. Every once in a while you see a leaf drift down from the maple out in the front yard. The Iron Weed is unveiling the most beautiful purple you have ever seen. Crickets are deafening at night now and the lightening bugs are dwindling. The frogs in the pond have quieted down. The cicadas sing loudly in the afternoon. The Joe Pye Weed is weighed down with giant swallowtail butterflies. I used to be able to be outside until 9:30  or 10 but now it's too dark to see by 8:30. As the days get shorter, the milk bucket gets lighter. Yep, it's sure starting to feel like fall.
            We have been raising dairy goats for 15 years now. If we have a buck in with the does, they are always bred by the first or second week of August. This gives us early January babies, just when we like them. They grow out the best and are the healthiest then. This year however, our does are not coming in season yet. I've never seen this before.  Is this natures' way of putting babies on the ground later in the spring? If so, why? Is this a sign of a very bad winter? Just wondering.....only time will tell. I'll keep you posted.
             Better get back to the kitchen...tomatoes are calling my name.

Friday, August 1, 2014

And yes, it must be Hellmanns....

Homegrown Blanket

         This is Chessie sleeping on a blanket that was born and raised right here. This is a fleece from a ram lamb we butchered last fall. We have enjoyed the meat from that lamb all winter and the hide is  across the back of one of the couches in the living room.  I fleshed and tanned the hide myself. It was my first time at tanning and I enjoyed doing it. Since then, I have been working on coon hides. This fall I plan to try my hand at some deer hides. In the meantime, Chessie finds this to be the perfect place for a nap.

This is what August looks like....

            This is what our windowsills look like in August, loaded with tomatoes. As I was setting a few more out this morning, I thought to myself....why do you do that? Why do you put them on the windowsill? I couldn't answer myself because I didn't know the answer. My mom always put them there and I remember my grandma doing the same. All I can tell you is that by the middle of August every window is full and I have to put them on a table on the back porch. By that time, I'm canning ketchup, stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili tomatoes and whatever else needs done. My days are filled with tomatoes. Then by the end of August, I put away the table on the porch and we're back to the windowsills. The flood of tomatoes becomes a trickle and then it all ends. But every year, it starts and ends with the windowsills.
          If you're wondering what those racks are in the picture behind the tomatoes, they are stock trailer racks. We have a 16 foot flatbed trailer that we use to haul hay or coal or whatever.  A few years back, we saw a picture of racks that slid on the flatbed to make a stock trailer. We have looked every where to buy a set and couldn't find any.  A couple of weeks ago we found  a set on Craigslist in Ohio. We drove over the next day and bought them.  It's the best of both worlds because they are easy to slide on and off and then you only need one trailer to maintain. When the racks are on, we have a sixteen foot stock trailer to haul livestock. It even has a divider gate in the middle, just like a regular stock trailer. Then when you need the flatbed, you just slide them off. Genius, right? We think so. Glad somebody thought of the idea.
          I need to get to the garden to pick more beans. I should be able to finish them today. Have a beautiful first day of August.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

At 92, Mom's still heading and tailing green beans.

Oh my...that's just three plants picked....

A Year With No Summer?

          The other day I was watching tv and the weather forecaster said they are considering calling this the year with no summer. Oh, I know we still have August coming but here in these hills, August usually brings with it, a little feel of fall. I remember last summer, writing on this blog and asking the question, "What does a winter look like after such a cool summer?" Hmmm, well I found out. 24 degrees below zero, days of it never getting above zero and tons of snow. Yes, it was a winter to remember. But with all that cold came lots of sled riding, snowman making and we had our fill of snow ice cream! Also, I had lots of time to spin and knit in front of a cozy fire. I loved every minute of it. All that being said, this summer has been even crazier than last. I chuckled at Tim last night because when we headed out to do chores, he slipped on a sweatshirt. I asked him if he had ever had to put a sweatshirt on in July before? In usual "Tim" fashion, he just shrugged his shoulders and headed toward the barn. But I do wonder if we are setting up for another winter like last one. We had never heard of  "Polar Vortexes" until last winter and now we are having them in the summer? This morning it was 49 degrees when I milked and yes, I had a sweatshirt on. I'm not complaining, just wondering.
            We had some really bad thunderstorms this week. One hit Sunday evening while we were doing chores. As I stood at the stanchion milking, I was looking out one of the barn windows that faces the garden. Sheets of heavy rain was falling and the wind was whipping. I stood there and watched as most of our corn came down. I had planted four rows of a bantem variety and it stood right there and hardly moved but the big, beautiful Peaches and Cream, came crashing down. All eight rows of it. It was a sad sight to see. Today I will start cutting it off and feeding a few stalks at a time. It's like candy to the goats and sheep. They won't be nearly as sad as I am. The rest of the garden is thriving though with all the rain we have had. We are covered up with zucchini and crooknecks. Tim begged last week for a meal with no squash. I have picked a bushel or better of cucumbers. The beans are ready to can and we have had a few ripe tomatoes. I still haven't had my first "mater sandwich" though. We have eaten half a row of new potatoes. The peas are all gone now. We have more spaghetti squash than we will ever be able to eat. It's a good winter keeper though and will last all year.
           All the animals are fine and the does are still giving us two gallons a day. They will start to taper off next month though. The lambs are growing like weeds and it won't be long and we will be doing a fall shear. I love working with the lambs soft, sweet wool.
           Well, I better quit typing and go pick beans. At least I don't have to worry about it getting too hot to pick today. I'm not sure I've ever said that before. Hope everyone has a beautiful last few days of July.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Since January....

       Has it really been since January since I wrote a post? I'm not sure why it's been so long, other than I feel like things don't change around here a whole lot. Seasons come and seasons go and it's always pretty much the same. I feel like I'm boring the readers of this blog. My sister-in-law wrote me yesterday, telling me she missed reading the blog. I needed to hear that. I enjoy writing it and if nothing else, it keeps track of life here on the farm and something for my grandchildren to read some day.                            
       It's early morning right now and the birds have started their chorus. It's just starting to get light and there is a heavy mist in the trees. The last of the fireflies are putting themselves to bed. Crickets are still chirping quietly. Every spider web is outlined in dew and I can see where the fairies had quite the party on the grass last night. The catbird is mewing outside the window. She has a nest in the maple in the backyard. The phoebe is singing out by the barn. Her babies are nestled high on a rafter in the loft, safe from all the thunderstorms and rain, unlike the catbirds' babies, who have to ride out the storms on a high, wiggly branch. I can hear robins, song sparrows, a wood lark and a mockingbird too. I wish you could hear how my mornings start. There is nothing more beautiful than the choir God provides me with each morning.
        All that beauty is broken however, when the back porch screen door slams. Suddenly you hear the loud baaing of sheep and lambs. Then the goats chime in, hollering for their grain and to be milked. Chickens are scolding, roosters are crowing. The peacocks begin to yell back and forth. The quiet is gone. And so the day begins. Same as it has for years on this old farm. It's not boring for me and I wouldn't change a thing. Wish you were here with me....

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter and all it brings...

           We are having a good old fashioned winter this year. Even though it makes for longer chores, I know everything is better off with the cold. Our goat babies are always the healthiest when born in a cold winter like this one. The other morning, it was 18 degrees below zero. This morning, however, it was 22 above when I did the milking and the chores. It felt so much warmer, but it was pelting the snow down and the wind was blowing. We have about 8 inches of snow on the ground and it is supposed to snow a few more inches today. We are expecting another "polar vortex" next week again. It cracks me up how the "Weather Channel" has to put all these names on things. It's no longer just cold or a storm, now everything has a name.
           December brought a new face to the barn in the way of a Fell Pony named Deacon. He is the sweetest thing ever and so smart. He really has "horse sense". There are less than 300 registered Fell Ponies in the United States and I am so fortunate to own one. He even came with a passport! He has bonded with the goats and sheep in an amazing way. They are learning to trust him and he is learning to put up with little critters running around his feet.
          We only bred 3 does this year and so far two have freshened. Aurora had a spotted doe and Marshmallow gave us two huge doe kids yesterday. We had to make a run for the grocery store in the morning. I knew she was in labor but thought I had time. When we got back, I ran to the barn to check on her and there were two babies on the ground. It was 4 degrees outside and I knew they would get frostbite, so Emilee (our granddaughter) grabbed one up and headed for the house and I was right behind her with the second one. We put them in front of the fire and started drying them off. It took a while to warm them up but they came around and started to cry for a bottle. One is the most beautiful red color and the other an ivory color. They are back in the barn, under a heat lamp and doing fine.
         We have baby chicks in the milkroom right now because one of our Silkie hens snuck off and started to set. When I found her, she had 15 eggs under her...way too many for her size. I took away all but 8 and she hatched out 7. They are the tiniest little things. Some are white, some yellow and 2 black. They have had a time of it, trying to stay warm. I know better than to let a hen set at this time of year but I never have the heart to stop them. Maybe someday, I'll learn.
         We also have a litter of Border Collies. Megg delivered five beautiful pups three weeks ago. Four are black and white and one is red and white, like Megg's daddy. They are the sweetest things and so smart already.
          So you can see, we are busy like always but I wouldn't have it any other way. I hope you are enjoying this beautiful winter we are having. I know I am.