Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Learning To Draw Goats

No matter what books I am working on, somehow I end up with another book about goats. This year is no exception on that score. It does leave me learning to draw goats.

In school I drew horses. Lots of horses. I didn’t draw goats.

drawing goats depends of getting the head right
An Alpine goat has a dished face but a straight nose. The ears are pointed and upright. Saanens have a similar nose, but the ears open wider and are more rounded at the tips.

Later I worked on cats. These were much more difficult. I didn’t draw goats.

So now I need to draw goats.

This book is a little fun thing filled with alliterations, tongue twisters, short stories and short remembrances about goats. It isn’t quite done yet.

Nubians are different
A Nubian doe has a Roman or convex nose. The ears go down with an upward flair at the tip. They are wide and as long or longer that the nose.

Since each short topic is on a different topic, each can be worked with separately. One series of flash fiction stories are related, yet each is still different. Each begs for an illustration.

Usually I use photographs. I have none to use to fit this book. The illustrations will need to be drawn.

The easy way is to have someone else who draws regularly draw these illustrations. Except the easy way will be the hardest way.

newborn Nubian kid
Newborn kids are different. They have long legs, difficulty standing and are often as miserable as this one looks as they are suddenly someplace new. By the next day the awkwardness is replaced by cuteness.

Who draws goats? Very few people around here. And goats are different.

Goats are angular, not round like horses, cats or dogs. Each goat breed is different and some of those differences are subtle. If the artist misses one, anyone familiar with the breed will spot it right off and know the artist didn’t know what a goat should look like.

drawing goats means knowing meat from dairy characteristics
Boers are meat goats. They have short legs and thick, chunky bodies. They look heavy. Many of the body angles are rounded over.

That leaves me learning to draw goats.

I do have lots of models, if I can get them to stand still for a time. Photographs are easier and I do have lots of those.

dairy goats are different
This Nubian shows some dairy characteristics. They have long legs to make milking easier. Juliette is an old fashioned Nubian so her body is heavier but still not meaty over the back. The muscles are thinner

The other problem is breed. My goats are Nubians with their Roman noses and long, pendulous ears. Other breeds have dished faces and upright ears. And LaManchas have tiny ears.

My solution will be to draw illustrations for the easy stories first. Build up my confidence. I can do this.

After all, learning to draw goats will be like learning to draw horses. It’s a matter of practice.

Martha Cunningham drew the illustrations in “Dora’s Story.”

Woodchuck Attack

A few years ago a family of woodchucks moved in under the tractor shed. They lay waste to my garden. Another woodchuck attack shouldn’t be a surprise.

Out in the woods or in the abandoned pastures, woodchucks are interesting to see. Baby ones are rather cute. Most generally they are spotted as a flow of dark fur streaking across the road and into the brush.

woodchuck sitting up
“Who’s there? I know someone’s there. Where are you?” this woodchuck seems to say as he looks for me. This woodchuck lies out in the ravine near a pawpaw orchard which he ignores.

Once I got a chance to watch one a few minutes before being spotted. They flow along busily sorting through the grass. This is rare as they are very alert creatures.

Alarmed woodchucks live up to their other name of whistle chucks. Their whistle is high, loud and sudden. The first time I heard it I jerked upright looking all around wondering what was going on.

Nothing was going on. The woodchucks had vanished. I never saw them.

My garden is heavily mulched. This encourages worms, roots, moisture. Moles love it which is annoying.

woodchuck attack damage
Tomato plants are beside the shade house. These poor plants have been dug up so many times. I replant them and water them. They are now big with flowers on them. Unless the woodchuck digs them up again.

This year I kept finding my mulch churned up. My tomato plants were dug up. My pepper plants were snapped off.

Woodchucks are vegetarians. They eat plants. I found out before they love Brussels’s sprouts and will eat them to the ground. They love runner beans, but not yard long beans.

I looked at the damage and thought skunk. Skunks aren’t so messy and can’t climb into the garden and don’t dig holes under the fence. Raccoons were a possibility.

broken plant typical of a woodchuck attack
Yes, a woodchuck is a vegetarian. No, a woodchuck does not seem to like squash or pepper or tomato plants to eat. Instead the animal digs them up, breaks them off and makes a big mess.

It was a woodchuck attack. Friends have seen the same damage from chucks in their gardens.

And woodchuck explains why the chicory is all bent over. This one likes chicory. And grubs.

I’ve seen it, or rather the dark flow disappearing out to the manure pile. The den under the tractor shed was freshly remodeled. I found the hole under the fence.

The next challenge is catching the woodchuck in the livetrap. My garden can’t handle a full scale woodchuck attack. It has to go.

Getting Ready For Winter

It’s summer in the Ozarks, hot and humid. Last winter is a memory. But getting ready for winter begins now.

Finally the wet weather broke for a few days and the air filled with the sounds of tractors, mowers and balers. A barn full of hay is essential to getting ready for winter when you have livestock.

garlic plant ready for harvest
Normally the first three leaves yellow to say garlic is ready to pull. This year had lots of rain and the plants stayed greener longer. Pulling garlic on time is important. Ripe bulbs are tightly wrapped and solidly together. Over ripe bulbs have the cloves separating and falling apart. As long as the cloves are dried well, they do keep for a long time, but not as long as a ripe bulb.

People don’t eat hay. We do eat things like potatoes and garlic. These are early spring crops maturing now.

Normally leaves begin drying on the garlic stalks to signal when the bulbs are ready to harvest. All the rain kept the leaves green longer.

getting ready for winter needs a garlic supply
Freshly pulled garlic is damp. It must have a chance to dry thoroughly before storage or the cloves will rot. Soft necked garlic can be braided and hung. Stiff neck is trimmed and spread out. It takes a day to three days depending on humidity.

The garlic is still fine. Most of the bulbs are still tight. They are much bigger than last year’s bulbs.

Once the bulbs are dry and in the bucket in the pantry, they will bring dreams of spaghetti, lasagna, stir fry and rich soups and stews. Getting the bulbs dry is very important or the cloves will rot. Once dry, the bulbs will last all winter.

I used to grow several kinds of potatoes, but only have Yukon Gold now. The potato bugs are trying to move in. They haven’t much chance as the plants are dying back.

Potato plant ready to harvest
The wet year has kept many of the potato plants green and potatoes under them getting bigger. Some succumbed to the hot temperatures. When the leaves yellow and drop off, the stems yellow, the plant is done for the year. The potatoes must be harvested before they get wet and start growing again. I pull the mulch aside around the main plant, pull the stems up and search the area for potatoes.

So far the potato crop is generous. The tubers are usually smaller when grown in mulch, but harvesting is much easier. Besides, we are older and don’t need a monster baked potato at dinner. A medium-sized potato will do very well.

I like growing potatoes. They are nice looking plants and fairly easy to grow under mulch. Still, the number of seed potatoes I put out is going down. Older people don’t need to eat a lot of food.

getting ready for winter needs a potato supply
The last few years I’ve grown only Yukon gold potatoes. This year I found three buckets full of potatoes. I’m sure I missed some. I’ll take another look as I prepare the area for pumpkins and winter squash. And next year there will be a few ‘volunteer’ potato plants. These potatoes are damp and will be thoroughly air dried before storage.

Potatoes too need time to dry. I have several old milk crates to hold them. I put some newspaper down on the bottom, pour in the potatoes, top with newspaper to block light and stash the crates in the pantry.

Getting ready for winter will continue over the summer adding winter squash in the pantry and tomatoes and peppers in the freezer.

Summer Berry Time

Growing tame berries takes time and space. The space I have. The time I don’t. So I look forward to summer berry time on the hills.

Around here the first berries to ripen are the black raspberries. The first few are waiting in the refrigerator as an addition to morning pancakes.

The canes grow along the yard and along a fence nearby. These are challenging to pick as blackberries grow among them. The raspberries have thorns, but the blackberry thorns are fierce.

summer berry time begins with raspberries
Of all the summer berries I think I like the black raspberries to most. They are relatively easy to pick, taste delicious fresh and cook up in lots of dishes. The frozen berries are as versatile and good.

Sometimes there are more in the house than we can eat. These berries freeze well. I spread them on a cookie sheet and pour them frozen into a freezer bag. This takes summer berry time into the winter.

The gooseberries are still green. Many people pick them green and add enough sugar to counter the bitter taste. I don’t use much sugar so I let them ripen before picking them. They are a bit bland then, but don’t require sugar.

green gooseberries
Strictly speaking a gooseberry isn’t a berry. Each one is separate from a separate flower. They are a fruit and can be used in many of the same ways. I prefer mine ripe and a translucent purple to the green and bitter used by most people.

The gooseberry bushes grow along the yard and back in the ravine behind the house. These do have straight thorns, but the berries hang down away from them.

The blackberries are the hardest to pick. The canes interweave in large patches. They are well armed. Ticks like to hide on them. And the almost ripe and still bitter berries are easy to mix in with the delicious ripe ones.

Extra blackberries can be frozen like the raspberries.

blackberries come at the end of summer berry time
Blackberry thorns are long, hard and sharp. They stab through clothes, scratch and hang on refusing to let go. When they do let go, cloth sounds like it’s tearing. The berries turn from green to red and darken by degrees to black. They are ripe and good only when fully black. It takes good light to tell almost black from black. Of course the ripe berry slides off the plant with hardly a pull. How much of a pull? Not much less than an almost ripe one takes. These taste good, but can be so frustrating to pick.

There are several kinds of blackberries along the road and on the hills. The small canes along the roads are less dangerous. These berries are few in number, but a real treat.

Summer berry time includes the lowbush blueberries. These are hardest to get. The bushes are small and grow up in the hills. Not all the bushes have berries on them and the blueberries are small.

Birds and other creatures like the foxes eat berries too. Luckily there are enough berries for all of us.

Leftover Seedlings

This year I have a problem. Unlike most years I have leftover seedlings.

Seed catalogs have such a variety of tomato seeds and all are tempting. Stores offer only a few kinds; the kinds that sell well. So I try to raise my own.

leftover seedlings
Seeds want to grow into plants. Unfortunately there were more seedlings this year than there was garden space. I suppose commercial nurseries toss the extras. These were great seedlings. My garden is packed. I looked for a corner somewhere to plant these tomato seedlings.

Without a greenhouse or special lights, my seedlings are started late and often turn out spindly affairs. They do grow fast in the garden and produce tasty tomatoes. Leftover seedlings don’t exist.

My usual method is to fill a dozen Styrofoam cups with potting mix, water and two seeds each. If I’m lucky, one comes up in half of them.

big leftover seedlings need special planting method
Big tomato seedlings can be planted straight down but need a deep hole. It’s much easier to dig a shallow trench twice as deep as the root ball and two thirds the height of the seedling. Lay the seedling down in the trench. Carefully back fill the dirt around the roots and stem.

This year the temperatures moderated. The seeds germinated in most of the cups, both of them in a third of the cups.

Warm sun let me set the trays of cups out on the front porch. The seedlings grew. They thrived.

I had ordered three varieties: Speckled Roman, a paste tomato; St. Pierre, a red tomato; and Pineapple, a yellow and orange striped tomato. This was to result in eighteen plants in the garden, plenty for two people as there are always volunteer cherry tomatoes for snacking.

specially planted leftover seedlings
Dirt fills in over the root ball and stems of the tomato seedling. Since this is an indeterminate variety, the buried stems will put out roots to help support and grow the plant.

Then I came across a packet of Abe Lincoln tomatoes, a red variety I had wanted to try. The seed company sent a complimentary packet of Russian Blue tomatoes. A friend added two Paul Robeson red tomatoes. Another friend added a Lime green tomato.

Gardens are finite in size. Mine is packed with bell peppers, summer and winter squash, potatoes, beans, various greens, garlic and onions. There were four areas designated for tomatoes.

protecting leftover seedlings
This corner of my garden was covered with grass and other weeds. There are lots of weed seeds in the dirt waiting for a chance to grow. The cardboard will block the most of the weeds. It will break down and enrich the soil later.

As of now a pepper section has the cherry tomatoes and the Lime tomato. Another section has ten red tomatoes planted. One side of the shade house has six Speckled Roman with Pineapple on the other side. A side bed has six, many double, Russian Blue plants.

I have sold and given away tomato seedlings. And I still have leftover seedlings. They are tall and need planting out soon.

One solution would be to yank them out and toss them on the compost heap. Maybe I am too soft-hearted. They are trying so hard to grow.

tomato seedling in mulch
The two garden spots I found were recently covered with weeds. More weed seeds were germinating. Mulch helps keep the weeds at bay.

I scoured the garden for any holes big enough for some tomato plants. There are two much less than ideal spots. My leftover seedlings will have a chance to grow.

Chicks Become Pullets

When do chicks become pullets? I really don’t know for sure.

Chicks are these balls of fluff. They quickly grow wing and tail feathers. Body feathers push their way out. The fluff disappears as dust.

Not all of the fluff disappears. Some is persistent. The feathered out chicks have these ragged bits of fluff sticking out in odd places.

These chicks are still chicks. They are small and peep. They still like a bit of heat at night.

feathered out Barred Rock chick
Barred Rocks are an active chicken breed. They love to go exploring looking for greens and bugs to eat.

Once chicks have feathers, staying inside is not popular. Rainy days keep mine inside. They sit up on anything tall to look out the windows in the door.

Sunny days are a delight. The bottom door opens and a new world stretches out in front of these chicks. The chicks line the door sill, heads and necks twisting and turning as they look around.

feathered out Speckled Sussex chick
Most chicks I’ve raised before have small tails of a group of feathers. Speckled Sussex have a fan of separate feathers. The chicks are friendly and love going bug hunting. Some take cutworms out of my fingers. Cabbage worms are also relished. They are not allowed in the cabbage patch as they probably like cabbage too.

By the second day the chicks are waiting for their door to open. They generally stay inside as I fill feed trays, but don’t stay there long. Grass is much superior to chick feed.

A week later I make sure I am not standing in front of the chick door when I open it. Twenty-two feathery bullets shoot out. The chick yard is too small.

There was a time when I would let older chicks out into the grass. Grey foxes now live across the street. Quarter grown chicks are snack size.

Now I put up a ring of chicken wire. The chicks come out into a larger yard only when I am working close by. Moveable electric fence posts make moving the wire into different shapes and areas easy.

Now six weeks old have my chicks become pullets? They are almost half grown. They fly across their yard. They chase bugs as well as eat grass.

chicks become pullets eating chickweed to grow faster
Chickweed is a good wild green in the early spring. It is now time to get it out of the garden. The chicks enjoy helping as the seed heads and leaves are popular snacks. They are just the right size for the chicks on the verge of becoming pullets.

These birds still peep. I think they are still chicks.

In another week or two, these pint sized chickens will start clucking. They will not be happy in the larger yard. Already they cast longing eyes at my garden. There is an invisible “Chickens Keep Out” sign, except they can’t read.

I think my chicks become pullets when they start clucking.

Planting Peppers In Containers

All my seedlings were ready to transplant at the same time. Tomatoes came first, then bell peppers in the garden, finally I’m planting peppers in the containers.

Containers are nice. They do have their drawbacks. First is placing them. Second is finding enough dirt, compost, manure etc. to fill them.

Planting in containers brings in another set of drawbacks. First is keeping them watered. Containers dry out quickly and must be watered often.

planting peppers in containers
The newspaper was about six layers thick. It can be thicker. Once the paper is wet a trowel slices through easily to slide in the pepper transplants. Since part of my soil mix was garden soil, there were weed seeds germinating. If only potting soil or other bagged soil is used, the newspaper would not be necessary.

Weeds are second for several reasons. Weeds compete for root space, leaf space and water. They usually win competing against garden vegetables.

Third comes heat. In the garden the sun heats the surface of the ground down a few inches. Containers are heated on top and on any part of the sides the sun contacts. In extreme heat conditions, the sides should be shaded.

I have a fourth problem: my cats. They don’t tend to dig in the containers. Instead they find the containers ideal places to sit for observations of the surrounding area. Containers are wonderful places for naps as well. Plants make nice cushions.

mulch around pepper plants in container
Hay bales shed. I use this as mulch. The pepper transplants are three to four inches tall and sheltered by the mulch. They have been outside for several weeks, but not in direct sun.

In the past I’ve watered extra, weeded extra and chased the cats or place strategic rocks. After reading “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza, I’m trying something a bit new. First I dumped a watering can of water on the dirt newly cleaned of weeds (Yes, the weeds had already started colonizing the containers.). Next I laid down layers of newspaper and poured water on them. In the book the newspaper is wet when it’s put down. I find wet paper is very difficult to work with so I put it down dry and add water.

A trowel slices through wet newspaper easily to make a hole for the transplants. Last a layer of mulch hay went on top of the newspaper.

finished planting peppers in the container
The field or woven wire fencing does support the plants well along with holes large enough for harvesting. The wire discourages most of my cats from napping in the container. Sunny is smaller and finds he gets privacy.

The container was watered before planting peppers as transplants do better in moist soil. The newspaper and mulch should discourage weeds and help hold moisture in the container. The mulch also protects the newspaper and transplants from drying out or being pounded by rain.

A circle of woven wire serves two purposes as well. It discourages the cats. It keeps the pepper plants from falling over. I will be adding a stake to keep the wire in place.

Making Twisted Rope

Writing the Carduan Chronicles I find these survivors need to master various skills including making rope. There are two kinds: braided and twisted rope.

Normally I make braided rope as I can make it slowly by myself. I use it to make lead ropes and long ropes to tie down hay bales. When I had cows, I made a halter.

Making twisted rope requires a couple of tools and three people. A friend mentioned having the devices and offered me the chance to help make some ropes.

twisted rope strand
This shows a good twist on the rope. It’s tight enough to give a good, flexible rope and loose enough to bend easily.

Both braided and twisted ropes are strong. The twisted kind made by machine is the one sold in stores.

Hand made twisted rope can be single or double strand. The device my friend has requires each strand to be full length at the beginning so any splicing must be done securely before beginning. The alternative he uses is rolls of baling twine used in balers.

gears for making twisted rope
The crank turns the central large gear. This gear turns three smaller gears attached to the three hooks. The hooks must all turn at the same speed putting the same twist on the strands to make a good rope.

The length of the finished rope is determined by the length of the working area. If the length is so great the strands sag to the ground, they must be supported. Weeds and other items must be cleared away so they don’t get incorporated into the rope.

The cranking device is clamped onto a sturdy post or trailer. It has a crank with a handle hooked to a toothed gear turning three smaller gears attached to three hooks holding the three strands. This is so the hooks turn at the same speed creating even tension on the twine.

cranking device clamped in place
The crank device must be clamped securely in place as it puts all the tension on the strands. We used the end of a small trailer. A stout post will work. The twisting strands will put a lot of tension on this device.

At the far end is a hook that swivels. The strands of twine are attached to the three hooks at the crank device. The other ends of the strands are tied together and hooked onto the swivel hook.

swivel hook for making twisted rope
Someone must hold this hook. The hook will turn as the rope forms and at the end to stabilize the rope. It can’t be clamped as the strands shorten as they twist. The twisting rope pulls you forward as you hold onto the hook.

A wooden paddle or traveler with three slots controls the twist. One strand goes through each slot. The strands can not be tangled.

Holding the swivel hook might seem simple. In one way it is: you stand there pulling back to put tension on the twine strands. In another it isn’t: you must keep that tension while being pulled forward as the twisting shortens the twine between the devices.

Cranking is work. The arm gets tired but the crank must continue to turn at the same speed until the traveler starts getting close. Then the cranking must slow down to keep from making the rope too tight and stiff.

traveler for making twisted rope
The traveler as I call it looks like a ping pong paddle with three notches in it. Each notch holds one strand for making the rope. Some ropes do have more strands and their travelers will have more notches. Starting with it close to the swivel hook end keeps the twist from starting until each strand has enough tension on it.

The traveler starts close to the swivel hook to hold the twine strands apart as the crank turns the hooks twisting the strands. They quiver and vibrate as they twist. When the twist is tight, the traveler is moved forward. The swivel turns and the strands twist around each other.

This is when making a twisted rope gets tricky. If the traveler is moved forward too slowly, the twists are tight making a stiff rope like a lariat. It the traveler is moved too quickly, the twists will be loose making the rope too soft and not as strong.

coil of twisted rope
Our work area was about 75 feet long. The coil of rope is about 65 feet long. It has the look and feel of a commercial rope.

Three strands of twine make a quarter inch rope. Double strands make a half inch rope. The more length or number of strands, the harder cranking becomes.

My Carduans may read about making twisted rope, but they will begin with braided ropes as these are easier with the fibers they find to begin with. Still, learning to make twisted rope was interesting and I will appreciate my new rope.

Gardening In Layers

Mulch is nothing new to me. I’ve used it for years. I never thought of it as gardening in layers until I came across a book on gardening called “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza.

It isn’t that I don’t have lots of books on gardening. I do. The library display of gardening books was too tempting. Besides, I like lasagna.

Except “Lasagna Gardening” isn’t about growing lasagna ingredients. It’s about gardening in layers as lasagna is assembled in layers. This is right up my alley.

"Lasagna Gardening" is gardening in layers
Few if any gardeners enjoy days and days of weeding. Tilling is hard work. “Lasagna Gardening” explains one method of eliminating both. It also goes over different vegetables, herbs and flowers grown using this method. The best part is the way this method enriches the soil to improve gardening success.

Beginning

The first layer in a lasagna garden is newspaper. Those were the days when people subscribed to a daily newspaper. A good substitute is cardboard.

The purpose of the paper or cardboard is to block grasses or weeds from growing up into the garden. No weeding!

Does it work? Yes, it does. I’ve done this for years. The problems involved include obtaining enough cardboard (The local feed stores get a supply regularly on the pallets of feed.) and weeds creeping up between overlapping pieces or at the edges. As the paper breaks down, some strong weeds like tree seedlings can grow up through it.

serious gardening in layers begins with newspaper or cardboard
Serious mulching to prevent weeds begins with a weed barrier. “Lasagna Gardening” suggests newspaper. I have easier access to and prefer cardboard. In the past I’ve topped this with mulch hay. After reading this book, I will be adding more manure etc. to the garden beds every fall.

Building the Layers

My normal next step is to dump on the mulch. My goats are happy to keep me supplied with any hay not meeting their exacting standards.

In “Lasagna Gardening” the next layers are peat moss, grass cuttings, chopped fall leaves, compost, manure and other organic matter. These are piled on to eighteen to twenty-four inches deep before adding the mulch.

I no longer use peat moss. It is touted as natural, which it is, and sustainable, which it is not. It is being dug out of peat bogs (destroying the bog ecosystems) faster than the new peat can be created.

The other ingredients are subject to preference and availability. Compost and manure are easy for me to come by. Grass clippings require raking. Fall leaves require asking around town for the maple and sweet gum leaves which will probably require raking.

Oak leaves are problematic. They are thick and more acidic. They are slow to decay. If chopped up with a mower, they do work fine. Chopped leaves don’t blow away as readily.

mulched pepper plant
My usual method is mulch hay. This stops most weeds and keeps moisture available during dry spells. Deep mulch helped protect this pepper plant from low temperatures. A handful of hay over the top will keep the plant safe from light frosts.

Trying It Out

The difficulty with reading gardening books in the spring is that my garden is already underway. The potatoes are up. The cabbage is delighted with this cool, wet spring weather. The other beds are prepared for summer crops.

I will definitely adjust this new method of gardening in layers. It is an extension and improvement of my methods. Over the summer I will stockpile cardboard for this fall. Manure is not a problem as the goats produce a new supply daily. Mulch will need to be stockpiled.

Over the summer I can do some of it on a small scale as various crops finish up and the beds are prepared and planted with another crop.

Gardening in layers? Cutting back on weeding? Cutting back on garden drudgery? I’m all for it.

Pepper Container Gardening

Planting two different varieties of peppers next to each other isn’t wise. They cross. This is why I went to pepper container gardening.

My favorite peppers were the colored bells. Unlike green peppers, they are not bitter. The different colors have slightly different tastes. And they are pretty.

Then a friend talked me into trying a Macedonian pepper. This is another sweet pepper (I don’t grow hot peppers.). It is a long horn shape turning from green to lime green to yellow green to rose red. It is delicious.

Two more Macedonian peppers have joined my line up. I still grow the colored bells as I like them too. I needed to have a place to grow the new pepper away from the garden where the bell peppers grow. Containers were the answer.

There are several considerations for pepper container gardening.

tubs for pepper container gardening
Cattle protein tubs are often thick, sturdy plastic. They have to be as a full one is very heavy. They come in smooth, ringed and ridged designs along with several colors. They are around 2 feet deep and 2 1/2 feet across. This one is setting on two cement blocks and has five holes in the bottom.

Location

Peppers like very warm and sunny places. Here in the Ozarks all day sun is not necessary, but half the day is minimum.

Choosing the location is vital for pepper container gardening as, once the containers are filled, moving them is difficult.

As I have three varieties of peppers to consider, I need three locations separate enough to discourage cross pollination. In front of the house, on the sunny side of the house and behind the house work for me. All get shade part of the day, but sun most of the day during the summer.

gravel for pepper container gardening
Although I raided the gravel bars along the creek, gravel can be obtained from cement companies. I used one 5 gallon bucket of gravel in a tub which resulted in about four inches for drainage. Larger pieces covered the holes and need some gravel placed over the pieces before dumping the rest in so the covering pieces aren’t pushed aside.

Containers

Since I grow four plants in each container, I need a big container. Bigger containers don’t heat up in the sun as much preventing the roots from cooking.

My containers are the empty plastic tubs sold filled with cow licks. My feed store buys them back empty from cattlemen and resells them to gardeners like me. The owner also uses a line of them to grow left over transplants for himself and customers who want a quick snack as they go into the store.

Drilling five or six half inch holes in the bottom provides drainage.

Setting Up

Drainage is important. Putting a couple of half size cement blocks or a few bricks under the container helps.

Next the pepper container needs gravel. A larger piece goes over each hole. Four to six inches of inch size gravel goes in on top. This will, in a few years, clog with dirt and need replacing.

Soil comes next. I mix mine. My mixture has one part creek sand, one part composted goat manure and two parts dirt in it. The amounts are not exact. Part of the mix is removed and replaced each year with more compost.

Leave three or four inches clear at the top to hold water in the container.

filled container ready to plant
My soil mix included half a five gallon bucket of sand, two buckets of dirt and one bucket of compost. The dirt was lighter so I needed less sand. I poured in half a bucket of dirt, added a thin layer of sand, half a bucket of compost and mixed. Repeat, I did have more compost, but the container was full. The mixture can be adjusted. This tub is now ready to plant. I plan on four pepper plants. It would work for one tomato plant or lots of greens or ?

Adding Pepper Plants

I space four plants around the container three or four inches from the edge. It’s a good idea to have a stout pole in the center to tie the plants to.

The Ozarks can be a windy place. I have used circles of fence wire, but this needs anchoring too.

Growing Considerations

Pepper container gardening is different from garden based pepper growing. I do mulch my containers to help control weeds, hold in moisture and keep the soil cooler. The containers need watering every other if not every day.

With a little planning pepper container gardening can yield enough peppers to spice up every meal and put plenty in the freezer.

Growing Cabbage in the Ozarks

Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower transplants show up the first of April at several places around town. Yet growing cabbage in the Ozarks is a dicey affair at best.

Cole crops like cool weather. Seventies is as warm as they like to be. Eighties is a disaster in the making.

There are several problems with cole crops in hot weather. First and foremost is the bitter taste. All cole crops seem to have a bit of bitter taste to them. Hot weather multiplies this to inedible.

growing cabbage takes cool weather
Cool weather and rain delight cabbage plants. They are mulched and have few weeds, mostly a few grass plants. The pathways around the patch are not mulched yet. They are deep in chickweed and dead nettle, great early spring bee food.

A second problem is mostly a cabbage problem. The heads rot. A series of cool days will encourage the plants to form heads. One day of eighty degree weather might bleach the top leaf. A second day starts the inside of the head to wilt down leaving a pile of stinky ooze the third day.

Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi promptly send up flower stalks. They flower almost overnight turning scraggy and dying a few days later.

A friend wants cabbage in the spring. I get the varieties with the shortest maturity dates, put them in and hope for the best.

growing cabbage takes time
Green cabbage comes as three different varieties of transplants. Those in my patch are the two with the shortest maturation times. Their window has been open longer than usual. Once temperatures bounce up into the eighties, cabbage leaves are on the menu.

Cabbage leaves are edible too.

This year has not decided what to do yet. Through April the temperatures dithered from days in the sixties to days in the seventies tossing in a couple of eighties.

Growing cabbage under these conditions is not ideal. My plants are heavily mulched to keep the ground cool. Since it keeps raining an inch or two a week, I’m hoping the mulch isn’t too wet.

growing red cabbage
There must be more varieties of red cabbage, but only one shows up as transplants. It takes longer to mature than the green ones. I like it because it is so pretty.

Typically spring in the Ozarks is short. We’ve had the usual amount, even a bit more. Any day could turn into summer.

For now my growing cabbage is happy and starting to think about making heads. I watch, wait and hope.

In the meantime the tomato and pepper seedlings are doing well. They prefer eighty degree days, but tolerate sixties and seventies once they’ve germinated.

Raising Chicks My Way

April has pros and cons for raising chicks. A big pro is having the pullets start laying in the fall and continuing through the winter. A big con is the weather.

This year my chicks were to arrive on a Wednesday. It was a nice warm spring day. Perfect for settling new chicks in.

The chicks were delayed. The weather turned cold. They arrived huddled in the box trying to keep warm. Their new quarters weren’t warm enough. Keeping them warm is critical to raising chicks.

cage for raising chicks
This cage is a bit small for 22 chicks. However it is easy to surround with cardboard and keep warm when the temperature drops. The chicks can’t get stranded somewhere and get a good start for the first three days. The brown pullets are speckled Sussex. The black pullets are barred rock.

Changing to a larger light bulb solved the warmth problem. I do use a heat lamp so the heat is directed downward. I do not use a heat bulb. Instead I have an array of wattages from 60 to 100 to 150.

When cold weather moves in, the largest bulb goes in. When the temperatures go up, the size of the bulb can go down. The chick house is remodeled against predators, but temperature fluctuations move in.

It’s hard to keep all the chicks together for the first day or two. So I move an old wire cage into the chick house. This has three advantages.

First is keeping the chicks together and under the light. Surrounding the cage with cardboard contains the heat when temperatures really drop. Draping blankets over it will keep chicks warm through frosts.

chicks move into chick house
The temperature soared to eighty. The chicks were too hot in the cage. The temperature was due to drop in two days. The solution was to let the chicks out into the chick house. I set the water and food out and left the door open. A few ventured out. Soon all were out and the cage was removed.

Second is giving an extra protection from black snakes. I have learned that these creatures can fit into crevices I don’t even see.

Third is ease of cleaning. I put down layers of newspaper in three sheet groups. Each day I can roll up a layer leaving the chicks with a clean floor with a minimum of trauma for them. clean quarters is important for raising chicks.

This year the temperatures decided to soar when the chicks were a few days old. The cage was getting cramped and couldn’t be kept cool enough. So the chicks moved out into the chick house proper.

raising chicks in the chick house
The chicks love being out in the whole house. They are still too young to fly. Grass clippings are fun to scatter, maybe sample. And the chicks can move into or out of the warmth as they choose.

The chicks are delighted with all the room. I haven’t changed to a smaller bulb as cooler weather is coming in. Instead the top of the double door and a window are open. Small bugs fly in to amuse the chicks.

This may be a makeshift arrangement, but it works for me and the chicks. And that is all that matters.

April Houseplant Headaches

Winter never gives up without a fight in the Ozarks. Spring and winter vie for supremacy the month of April giving me houseplant headaches.

All winter my few houseplants have patiently waited. The grow light is never bright enough. Water is either too much or too little. They hunker down and endure.

Freezing temperatures will kill my houseplants. Warm temperatures will make them grow into beautiful plants once again.

weather houseplant headaches
When the days are warm, I carry the houseplants out to the plant bench behind an old shed. There are seven pots to haul out. African violets stay in the house all year. If it’s not supposed to rain, but might lightly frost, I toss a blanket over them rather than haul the pots back inside for a day or two.

Spring blows in with warm temperatures. The houseplants move outside. The fern puts up new fiddleheads.

Winter tromps in with freezing temperatures. The houseplants move inside drooping under the grow light once more.

Spring returns. The houseplants move out again.

Houseplant headaches come in the form of poring over the weather forecasts. Will the temperatures stay warm for several days?

fig tree houseplant headaches
Some fig trees do very well in pots. The pot is one cattle protein licks came in with five or six half inch holes in the bottom. A layer of gravel is next. Then comes a mixture of compost and soil. The stand is simple and set up so a small tractor can pick it up with it’s carry all tines. The heated room is a converted, insulated garage kept at forty degrees over the winter.

More houseplant headaches come as heavy pots are carted out and the watch begins. Weather forecasts are notoriously inaccurate in this frost pocket. Most accurate is the feel of the air when I go out to milk. Ice in the air means racing back to cart those pots inside for the night.

Winter is sneaky. The air can feel warm in the evening. The wind can shift blowing in freezing temperatures by morning. Such a set up turned all my plants black a few years ago. Most of them did sprout back up in a week or two.

Many of my houseplants are gone now, given away. April houseplant headaches following the struggles of keeping the plants alive over the winter became too much of a hassle.

developing figs
Figs are an interesting fruit. The flowers are inside a fig-like capsule that comes straight out of the branches. The fig develops from there. Different figs are different colors when they are ripe. They do soften. They taste radically different from the commercially available dried figs.

Now there is a new source of houseplant headaches: fig trees. These are not the hardy figs. These are the tropical figs grown for their delicious fruits. They reside in large tubs.

All winter these trees lived in an insulated, heated room. Now the tractor comes over to move them out for warm spring days and returns to put them back in their room when winter returns.

Unlike my houseplants that are strictly to look at, the figs repay us for the trouble with fresh figs. The trees are already putting on a crop.

Goat Kid Liver Spots

Spotted goats are pretty. Black with white spots is very popular. Kids with brown spots are not popular. Such liver spots may turn color.

Some of my kids are born with white spots. There are two doe kids covered with such spots this year. One belongs to Spring and one to Pamela.

Little spotted Nubian doe
Her brother may have liver spots, but this little Nubian doe is covered with small white spots. At about two weeks old, she is tasting everything.

Spring’s little buck has no spots at first glance. His black is intense. Look again and several brown spots are there in the black. These are liver spots.

Drucilla’s brown doe had such spots. As she got older, the spots seemed spotted with white. When I ruffled her fur in these places, the underneath was white. I’m confident her spots will be white when she is an adult.

liver spots on little Nubian buck
The gym steps are as tall as this little Nubian buck is. He goes up the ramp onto the top and lays up there or comes down a step to lay there. He doesn’t sleep much, but watches everything going on. His liver spots are small on the top of his back and few on his left side.

Why do these brown spots turn white? I don’t know. Perhaps someone has studied this.

I do know body temperature can affect color. Siamese cats are not really that ivory with brown ears, tail and paws. They should be all brown.

There is some factor about the brown  on Siamese cats that prevents it from showing when the body is hot. Ears, tails and paws are cooler letting the brown show. As a cat gets older and bigger, its body gets cooler and more of the brown shows there which is why older cats are darker in color than young ones.

liver spots show as little Nubian buck walks away
Already this little Nubian buck avoids having his picture taken. His right side has lots of larger liver spots.

Maybe goat kid liver spots work the same way. The color does change as the kid gets bigger.

Yet, I’ve read that some spots never change color remaining brown on the adult goats. This wouldn’t be unattractive. It would be an interesting color pattern.

Spring’s little buck is barely over a week old. The color of his spots does not concern him at all. Being able to jump up onto the goat gym is far more important.

And, pretty as spots on goats can be, they don’t put milk in the bucket. Those solid brown does can make great milkers. And brown is a nice color too.

Harriet raises goat kids in “Capri Capers”. They keep her very busy and play an important part in the story. Read the sample pages on the “Capri Capers” page.

Gardening With Goat Kids

Pulling weeds is no fun. Knowing the weeds shouldn’t be there if only you had mulched properly in the fall makes it worse. Gardening with goat kids makes it bearable.

Goats are not welcome in my garden. They like too many of the vegetables and trample the rest.

Gardening with goat kids includes the little Nubian buck
The Holy Terror got bored and lay down for a nap, unless I moved someplace new. He has adjusted to being in the barn and likes his new friends. They have a great time out running and chasing and exploring. They have discovered the goat gym. The little Nubian buck’s colors really are that vivid.

Gardening with goat kids is different. Kids don’t really eat much until they are three to four weeks old.

My bottle kid enjoys hanging around me for company. He relies on me the way other kids rely on their mothers for protection and daring to go exploring. Besides, he usually has a lot of fun following me around as I go interesting places.

Gardening with goat kids can mean getting plants nibbled or eaten as this Nubian doeling is doing
The little Nubian buck’s sister is quite a handful. She is testing out a mulberry seedling for munching possibilities. She has discovered she can get out under the pasture gate and go with her mother for the day. It is a battle in the morning and I lose the war in the afternoon. At least the herd doesn’t go far afield then.

The kids except for the bottle kid were supposed to be out in the pasture with their mothers. That didn’t work out very well. I ended up with all four.

The kids explore everything with their mouths. They eat dirt as they are establishing their rumen residents. They nibble on the weeds. It’s a shame they can’t pull the weeds too.

Gardening with goat kids has this Nubian buckling exploring things
The last kids from my old Nubian buck Gaius includes this red Nubian buckling. He gleams with red as Gaius did when he was young. A week younger than the little buck, this one is still chewing on everything and eating nothing except by accident. He’s testing out a pepper plant cage. Definitely interesting, but not edible.

I used the potato fork to loosen a row of weeds across a garden bed. One or more kids would come over to check out the weed masses I pulled out, shook dirt from and tossed into the wheelbarrow.

Dead nettle and chickweed have fibrous roots. They sprout in the fall and spread out their roots over the winter. The root mat is a couple of inches thick and continuous. It must be broken into small chunks to protect the back.

Pulling weeds does get boring after a time, a short time. Gardening with goat kids lengthens that time. Then they get bored.

Little Nubian doeling in garden
Rain washed straw mulch interests this little Nubian doeling, sister of the red buck. She had a wonderful time helping me in the garden.

It becomes nap time. There are four kids. I can carry two at a time. The bottle kid is now an asset.

I pick up Natasha’s two younger ones. The bottle kid (I know, he needs a name. I’m thinking.) follows me. His sister follows him.

The kids move back into their favorite spot in the barn and curl up for naps.

Moving Kids Out To the Barn

It’s rare for me to have kids in the house for more than a few hours or even overnight. This is a temporary affair to warm up or dry off cold kids. Having one in the house longer leads to a major problem: Moving kids out to the barn.

moving kids out means little Nubian buck goes to the barn
The little Nubian buck looks sweet. So deceptive. He is out and about during milking. He spends his time racing around. His favorite activity is leaping onto the plastic feed sack of trash with its satisfying explosion of crinkling sound. Does on the milk stands are adjusting and no longer trying to leap out of their skins.

Those in for a short time go back out with their anxious mothers. Dry, fluffed and warmed up these kids do fine. Mother takes them back and raises them.

Kids kept inside for several days are forgotten by their mothers, especially if there is a sibling out with the mother. That was what happened with this kid. Matilda assumed she had only one kid and rejected the little buck entirely.

Nubian doe key to moving kids out
Nubian doe High Reaches Pixie’s Natasha knows she has two kids, but isn’t so sure what to do with them. She wants to stay with them. She wants back out with the herd. Luckily she is not disturbed by having the little buck move in with her.

Mother goats do more than feed their kids. They protect their kids from the other goats. Goats have a pecking order with each lording it over those below her. Small kids, unprotected, are on the bottom and knocked around by everyone.

Moving kids out to the barn therefore takes careful planning. If a kid is dumped out, it will be lost and attacked from all sides. All the kid knows is the house and people.

Keeping the kid in the house is not tenable. It is not housebroken. Half a dozen towels are needed for each couple of days.

little red Nubian doe helps moving kids out
At twelve hours old this little Nubian doe, one of Goat Town Gaius’ last kids, is still getting used to standing. By the next day she was up and walking around. By two days old, she was starting to hop.

Older kids are ready to run, play and jump. Like small children, they explore and get into everything within reach. The kid was up in the recliner and on the bed. The cats fled or moved up as high as possible.

I took the kid out to the barn during milking. This was fine. The kid explored the milk room and followed me around doing chores. And went back to the house.

I took the kid out to meet his sister. Matilda was not impressed. She behaved only as long as I was right there. I do not wish to move into the barn.

little red Nubian buck helps moving kids out
This little Nubian buck is one of Goat Town USA Gaius’ last kids. He will be the same deep red with added white markings. He is about twelve hours old here and in a dark barn – headache for picture taking.

The kid had to move out to the barn. I was up against all the difficulties of moving kids out to the barn. He isn’t big enough or tough enough to make it on his own yet. He can’t be kept all alone.

High Reaches Pixie’s Natasha delivered twins. She is a first time mother. She is not high in the pecking order. She is trying to decide how to be a good mother.

The kid went to the barn and in the kidding section with Natasha and her kids. He isn’t happy. He is overjoyed when I show up and cries when I leave.

But Natasha ignores him. Her kids will be big enough to play in a week. And the kid’s sister came into the milk room while Matilda was eating and getting milked. The two kids sized each other up.

Moving kids out to the barn is tough. This little buck will make it.

Harriet ends up with two house goats in “Capri Capers.”

Chilled Kid Becomes House Guest

High Reaches Sprite’s Matilda had her kids the other night. The day was cool, but not bad. The temperatures went down with the sun. One chilled kid had to go to the house.

A chilled kid is a kidding emergency. Kids are born wet, get cold, get hypothermia, stop responding to their mother and die.

chilled kid in goat coat in morning
Still in his goat coat in the morning, the little kid is awake and hungry. He still can’t stand on the towel or the linoleum. He is no longer cold.

In Matilda’s case this was complicated by the sizes of the two kids. I read once long ago that, if the developing kids share a placenta, one can get most of the nutrition and get large while the other one is small. This is what I faced that night.

The larger doe was up on her feet, drinking milk and doing well. Such a kid is not a good house guest. Such a kid needs a goat coat, a sheltered place to sleep and will do fine.

chilled kid now up and walking
The kid needs to eat frequently so he went to town with me. He enjoyed being at the laundromat as the rough texture of the indoor outdoor carpet was made for walking on. When he got home, he could handle the linoleum.

The smaller buck was second born. He got cold. He shivered for a time then stopped. He spoke to his mother for a time and stopped.

Drying this kid off didn’t help. Putting a goat coat on him didn’t help. He refused to eat. He had to get warmed up.

I had a choice to make. If I took both kids into the house, the larger one would be lively and unhappy. However, Matilda would take both back in the morning.

If I took only the chilled kid inside, Matilda would assume she had only one kid. I would be stuck with a bottle baby.

chilled kid meets sister
The little buck’s sister got to spend the day out in the barn. Matilda mostly left her parked in a corner while she went out to graze. The sister sniffed noses with her brother, but doesn’t know him. Hopefully they will be playmates in a couple of weeks. He has lots of red on him. She is deep black with white star, frosted ears and nose.

The lateness of the hour (nearly midnight) made thinking things through difficult. I chose to have the bottle baby.

Once inside, I fitted up a box with a towel on the bottom (I have a couple dozen bath towels for emergencies such as this.), a heating pad under plastic and another towel on top. The heating pad was set on warm, the kid was put into the box.

Heating pads are a wonderful invention. Mine is old and I dread trying to replace it. This one stays on for two hours and has a warm setting, perfect for a chilled kid.

In an hour the little buck was ready to drink some milk. Two hours later he wanted more. Three hours later he wanted more and I had to get up for the day.

chilled kid enjoying the garden
An afternoon in the garden was interesting for a short time for the kid. He enjoyed basking in the sun. He’s already nibbling at things although eating is a couple of weeks away. Mostly he found gardening rather boring. I wish he could help pull weeds.

There are several problems with bottle babies. One is how often they need to eat for a few days. As I had to be in town most of the day, the bottle baby went to town. He had a wonderful time learning to walk on the rough carpet in the laundromat.

At home the little guy is off and running. The linoleum still gives him some problems, but the wood stove is a great nap spot. The floors are scattered with towels as baby kids are prolific producers of yellow rivers.

My next trip to the laundromat will include at least a dozen towels. The chilled kid is now doing fine. His name has changed from Pest to Holy Terror. My cats agree as they vacate the house ceding it to him.

Poor Harriet faces her own goat emergencies in “Capri Capers.” Find out more on the sample pages.

Growing Older Gardening Tricks

My father loved gardening. I was not impressed as I was used as weed puller and little else. He was practicing a growing older gardening trick.

I have come to enjoy gardening. As I grow older, I am coming to appreciate such tricks.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 1

Younger gardeners seem to think the entire garden needs to be done in one or a few days. They take that big tiller out and plow up the whole garden. They follow this with raking, setting out rows, setting out seeds and plants, watering and collapse in the evening with aching muscles.

My garden is divided up into pieces, mostly four by ten. I work up one section each day. This takes a couple of hours. Then I wander off to do something else like take a walk or read a book.

Oh, yes, about that tiller: Sell it.

growing older gardening trick: potato fork
One of the difficulties from growing older is getting less done in the same amount of time. So I picked up black walnuts and didn’t mulch the garden beds. This leaves me removing weeds this spring. A potato fork is great for this. It lifts and breaks the soil making pulling the weeds easier. That is not to be confused with easy. Dead nettle has fibrous roots and makes a root mass two or three inches deep. It must all be pulled up at once in large chunks. Mulch prevents dead nettle from growing.

Small spaces don’t need the use of a tiller. Rich garden dirt containing plenty of compost does not need a tiller. A potato fork works fine.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 2

My father used children to pull his weeds. That works fine, if you have children wanting to earn a little money.

Some gardeners use herbicides. These are not necessary.

Mulch is the secret. My garden sections are normally mulched fall and spring with extra as needed.

This is not wood chips, plastic or other commercial mulch. My goats supply plenty of bedding (Do note that even expensive alfalfa hay becomes bedding as soon as it touches the ground in the opinion of goats. And goats do drop lots of hay on the floor.) However commercial straw or free leaves work well.

Leaves do have problems as they blow easily. One solution is to put down the leaf layer and cover with a thin layer of dirt or straw. Another is to run the mower over the leaves and chop them into small pieces, but they need replenishing sooner that way.

Mulch does have drawbacks. Bugs like mulch. Some plants don’t do well if mulch is too close, think lettuces.

growing older gardening trick: mulch
Yes, weeds aka dead nettle and chickweed (edible) are growing in the garden pathways. The mulch will keep them out of the garden beds. Mulch will get rid of them the end of April. In the meantime the weeds bloom and feed the bees. On the garden bed, mulch does slow down how fast the soil warms, but keeps it cooler during heat spells and holds moisture.

Some weeds will grow up through mulch. Locust trees and morning glories are my main culprits. Most will not.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 3

Raised beds and containers are very helpful when large scale gardening, even in sections, becomes difficult. They are nice any time.

I love raising colored bell peppers. I also like sweet Macedonian peppers. The bells go in the garden proper. The others grow in large containers around the house. This way I can save seeds. This would work for sweet and hot peppers.

Raised beds can extend the gardening season. Access is needed from all sides to put everything within reach.

growing older gardening trick: build your soil with compost and mulch
Once the weed cover is removed, I can admire the rich garden soil. It’s built up using compost and mulch over the years. The soil is loose and easy to work up. There are still rocks in my garden as the Ozark soil grows rocks continuously. Other than carrots, nothing seems to mind my leaving the smaller ones.

Growing Older Gardening Trick 4

This is the hardest trick to do. It means putting aside a love of gardening and looking honestly at how much you are growing. Crops that take lots of work or you no longer use need to be discontinued. Cut back on how many plants you are tending as older people need to eat less.

Growing older is not an excuse to stop gardening. It is a reason to change how gardening is done.

Gardening is creeping into the Hazel Whitmore series. Mother and Grandfather are competing in the County Fair with their tomatoes. Check out “Mistaken Promises.”

Rough, Tough Cloudy Cat

Early every winter morning Cloudy Cat arrives to sit on the plant bench outside the window. He is patient. He knows I will fill the dishes in the house and open the cat door. He leaps in.

I sweep up the debris from the firewood littering the floor while Cloudy eats. He gets done first. And panics. The cat door is closed. He begins meowing, demanding to be let out.

Woe to any other cat who needs to go out or come in. Cloudy is there at the door any time it opens impatiently waiting for me to go to the barn.

Cloudy Cat waiting at barn door
Cloudy Cat is waiting at the barn door for me to get done carrying water and other assorted tasks and let him inside. As soon as he gets inside, milk should appear in his bowl. He never seems to catch on that I have to milk a goat first.

After starting the fire and eating breakfast, I head to the barn. Cloudy Cat leads the way, tail up, triumphant. His insistence has paid off. (Never mind that I go through the same routine every morning and always go to the barn to milk.)

Now comes show off time. Roll on the ground to trip walkers. Race by and up a tree. Bat a snowball or rock or bit of wood around. Keep checking to be sure of being noticed.

Cloudy Cat rolling in snow
Snow may be cold, but Cloudy Cat doesn’t mind. He throws himself on it and rolls over expecting me to stop and pet him. The fact that I have a bucket in each hand is my problem, not his.

The pay off is milk in a bowl still warm from the goat eating on the milkstand.

Cloudy Cat does catch mice in the barn. He must as he stays fat and sleek. I have seen him catch a few.

Mostly I see Cloudy showing off his technique. He crouches poised on a feed barrel top waiting for any mouse stupid enough to come out while the goats and I are tromping around. Amazingly, a few do.

Cloudy Cat sleeping on hay bale
Cloudy Cat is a typical cat. Naps are an essential part of his day. A sun-warmed bale of hay makes a good place to snooze.

When the weather permits, Cloudy enjoys shadowing me on a walk down the road and back. In bad weather he curls up in the hay or on a goat blanket to sleep. He insists on staying in the barn and has ever since he arrived here five or six years ago.

Late afternoons Cloudy is back at the house to eat dinner. He again retreats outside and waits. It is time to go to the barn so he can have his milk.

Once warm weather gets here and the cat door is open all the time, Cloudy Cat will stop sitting on the plant bench. He will come in and sit on top of me. After all, he is determined to get me out to that barn.

Having Fresh Goat Milk

I like milk. To be more precise, I like my own fresh goat milk and use it everyday. Having a steady supply requires planning out when the kids arrive.

A doe produces milk to feed her kids. Dairy animals are bred to produce more milk than their kids require and for a longer period than kids need milk.

fresh goat milk producer Nubian doe High Reaches Silk's Drucilla
Nubian doe High Reaches Silk’s Drucilla posed nicely for her picture, then threw a fit as her twin does were not with her. They came over wondering why their mother was so upset and got their pictures taken. All were glad to be set loose.

Long ago I found I could breed half my does each year and milk the others through the winter months. This does mean milking twice a day, every day, all year round.

The alternative is to purchase a freezer to freeze milk in to last for several months. The goats still need daily care. I milk every day and enjoy my fresh goat milk.

fresh goat milk producer Nubian Doe High Reaches Pixie's Agate
Nubian doe Agate loves attention, but hates being tied up. She is a first freshener and has been milking for a year now. A former bottle baby, she is very friendly and still wants me to go out to pasture with her.

This winter has been trying. Cold spells alternate with warm spells. Even some of the plants are confused as the maples started to swell their flower buds by January. They got blasted by the next cold spell.

It seems to mess the goats up as well. Normally my does have a big heat spell right after the first really cold spell in early September. They stand bawling up at Augustus for two or three days. They wag their tails. They need escort service to come into the milk room.

fresh goat milk producer Nubian doe High Reaches Juliette's Lydia
Nubian doe High Reaches Juliette’s Lydia is positive there is a better way to have her picture taken. I’m thinking the same thing, but haven’t come up with a better plan yet. My goats don’t seem to like posing for the camera.

The rest of the winter the does cycle regularly until they are bred, but at much lower intensity. This winter that changed. Every warm spell, cold spell cycle brought my does into vigorous heat cycles.

Augustus produces that odiferous musk over breeding season. The smell usually starts fading in February. Not this year. He must continue to impress his does and abuse the noses of others.

Each big heat cycle cuts a bit of production from the does I’m milking through. It isn’t much, but accumulates. My supply of fresh goat milk is getting stretches thin.

fresh goat milk producer Nubian doe High Reaches Violet
Nubian doe High Reaches Violet is an older doe. She cooperates with the picture taking, but is not impressed. She prefers acorns to oats. She expects escort service to the milk room most days.

Kids are scheduled to begin arriving in mid-March with the last in early April. This assumes the goats will follow my schedule. Drucilla’s December twin does show they are not overly impressed with the schedule.

Additional fresh goat milk is iffy while the kids are nursing. It depends on who milks first, me or them. They usually win.

The kids should leave in June. Then my kitchen will again overflow with fresh goat milk until November after October bred goats start drying off for the winter.

Find out more about goat milk and milking goats in “Goat Games.”

Eating Snow Makes Goats Happy

Dairy goats need lots of water. With four inches of snow on the ground, the goats are inside and I am hauling water. Except the goats ignored my buckets and stood aong the gym step eating snow.

Snow is cold. Eating too much of it can cause hypothermia. Advice for goat owners is to provide plenty of warm water to their goats.

Nubian does prefer eating snow to drinking water
Yes, I had to bribe the goats to perform. Earlier they were eager to come out and eat the snow as they had just finished their hay. Now they wanted more hay and had no interest in the camera or posing or water at all. One thing about Nubians: they love to eat.

So I do.

And the goats continue eating snow.

I suppose I could confine them to the barn forcing them to consume the warmer water I bring. I did do that the day it snowed.

Soon the goats were bickering. The younger ones were bounding into the milk room and leaping onto the hay. They were racing around the barn upsetting the pregnant does due next month.

I opened the gate. The goats poured out to bask in the sun that was so prominent yesterday.

Nubian doe prefers water to eating snow
High Reaches Valerie preferred to drink water. She is a coming yearling and totally disgusted with the snow and ice.

And I hauled water. And dumped unwanted buckets starting to ice over. I hauled more water to the milk room for those who wanted some after eating their grain. And I dumped half of that.

My goats have eaten snow for years. I don’t know why they prefer it to the warmer water in the buckets, but they do.

As with hay or grain, my goats are picky about the snow they eat. It must be clean, no hoof prints or dirt, definitely no goat berries. Since clean snow lasts only a day or two, eating snow is a short time activity.

Orange Cat drinking from goat bucket
My place seems to have traveling tom cats drop by every few years. They come by and stay. Orange Cat is the latest. Cloudy Cat is disgusted as Orange Cat sleeps in his barn. It is the goat’s barn, but cats take precedence. The cats normally have their own water dish by the hand pump, but it freezes in this weather. Orange Cat likes the goats and shares their water bucket.

The practice doesn’t seem to hurt the goats. Hay continues to disappear from the troughs quickly. Grain vanishes as though vacuums were at work.

My herd is doing fine. My pregnant does are getting wide and their udders are swelling. My milking does still produce milk. I will let them enjoy their few days eating snow.

February Ice Storm

Perhaps it is just a coincidence. Most likely it has no relation at all. However a February ice storm came by.

In “The Carduan Chronicles” the space ship arrives in the middle of a February ice storm.

February ice storm coats everything
Ice coats this old log. It isn’t thick, but don’t step on it. Your foot will slide off possible making you fall. Such a coating was on the landing site for the Carduans. Thrill ride anyone?

This year’s February ice storm wasn’t much. It heralded a warm front coming in. About a quarter of an inch of freezing rain covered everything. During the day the ice melted and rain began.

In “The Carduan Chronicles” the ice storm drops a half inch of ice as a cold front moves in. The sun does come out and melt the ice off the trees. This is typical of such storms in the Ozarks. And that’s a very good thing.

That quarter of an inch of ice is treacherous. Any surface becomes slick. Walking is asking to fall and get hurt. Driving is not advisable from my house as the hills will be too slick for even four wheel drive to conquer.

February ice storm encases tree twigs and branches
Twigs and branches sport an ice coating. This coating is thin. When the coating is a quarter of an inch thick, sunlight will sparkle through it making the trees into crystal structures. The thin coating will try to do this, but melted too soon this time.

There are drivers who believe four wheel drive makes any winter road passable. Ice removes all friction between the road and the tires. Without friction, the vehicle slides no matter how many tires are trying to find traction. I would rather stay home than slide off the road and twenty or thirty feet down into the creek bed.

February ice storm creates frozen drops
An ice storm is freezing rain. It falls as very cold rain that freezes on everything. This milkweed pod has an ice coating with more dripping off as frozen drops. These can get fairly long as new drops add onto the frozen ones already there.

The grass stuck up through the ice and made walking possible. The goats do need milking, hay and water, ice or no ice. The chickens need food and water. And I want those eggs and milk.

A February ice storm can be destructive. The ice is heavy and can break off branches, bend small trees to the ground or snap them off and break electric lines. This little storm did little damage.

Instead the storm set the mood as I work my way slowly through the first rewrite of “The Carduan Chronicles.” In that the ice storm is followed by snow. There is snow in the forecast. I wonder.

Buying Seeds Galore

January thaw. The garden beckons. Spring is coming. I’m buying seeds to suit my garden dreams.

Gardens have a finite size. No matter how many books come out about squeezing more plants into less space, the only way to have more space is to make a bigger garden. Bigger gardens mean more work. Mine is big enough.

buying seeds for peas and greens
Red cabbage is unusual in my garden. I think it will show up more often in the fall since it is more frost hardy than the green cabbage. These will be gone by March. Peas will move in by the end of March. Maybe some spring cabbage. Maybe lettuce. Choices, choices. So many seeds to choose from.

Rationally I should calmly assess how last year’s garden worked. What grew well? What did we eat? What did we like? What was a waste of time?

Buying seeds is not done rationally. Not by me. Well, a little.

The catalogs make everything look fantastic. Those gorgeous vegetables look delicious.

We love corn. Corn takes lots of room. Raccoons love corn. I don’t grow corn.

buying seeds for spring planting in a mulched bed
What will grow here? Last year Chinese Winter Melon spread its vines down the section between okra plants. Maybe Yukon gold potatoes will grow here this year. The pathway is full of dead nettle and chickweed for the spring bees. That will disappear under mulch in late April.

Winter squash is wonderful. I love growing pumpkins. Both take lots of room. How many can two people eat? The goats don’t mind eating the extra.

My diet needs more greens in it. Not everyone in the household agrees. However, I have friends who love the extras.

Rutabaga is one vegetable I rarely have any luck with. I love this root crop. It hates the Ozarks. I persist.

Spinach, snow peas and peas are on the early list. Yard long beans are on the later list.

Potatoes are definitely on the list. They grow so well. I do plant fewer as we can’t eat them all.

No need for buying seeds for the garlic patch
All winter the garlic has settled in under the mulch. This is one crop planted in the fall as spring garlic gets burned by summer heat in the Ozarks.

Four summer staples are on the list. Okra, summer squash, sweet peppers –both colored bell and long ones – and tomatoes will be in the garden. I always seem to end up with many more plants than planned for.

Buying seeds is such fun. Garden dreams are so wonderful. Reality sets in about June. By then it’s too late for rationality. The garden will again become a jungle, a delicious jungle, a frustrating jungle.

And I will do it again next year.

Wonderful Fur Coats

Winter cold, ice, snow reign in the Ozarks for another month or so. Coats, hats, long underwear add girth and still the cold seeps through. The cats sit and play in the snow in their wonderful fur coats.

I’m jealous.

Tyke and Cloudy have shared the barn for several years. Tyke was there first and is older. They stay in the barn by choice pretending to hunt mice. They do catch a few to impress me from time to time.

Over the winter the two cats found cozy beds in the hay or on extra goat blankets and coats. The house was used overnight only in extreme cold and for cat food.

winter fur coats help keep Cloudy cat warm
My cat Cloudy is one tough cat. His winter coat is an inch thick. He races and jumps through the snow. He makes small snowballs to bat around. He can’t understand why I don’t want to stay out with him.

Running fingers through the cats’ wonderful fur coats is to find them thick and soft. A generous undercoat makes the coats like deep plush velvet. This traps heat. The outer fur sheds water to keep the undercoat dry.

Tyke is getting older and now sleeps on the floor in the house. He prefers the cold floor to warm blankets. I don’t mind as he doesn’t share well and thinks my side of the bed is his and I can move elsewhere.

This bed stealing is a subtle thing. He waits until I am asleep, moves up against me and shoves. I roll over. He repeats. Lucky for me he starts on the outside or I would be on the floor.

Days Tyke goes out. He catches mice in the hen house. He catches voles in the pastures. Rain or snow, he goes out.

Tyke cat warm in winter fur coats
My cat Tyke comes into the house with snow or rain on his fur and uses my leg for a towel. I see him out in the pasture walking through the grass in any weather. He seems unaware that such weather should chase him indoors.

Cloudy is more of a clumsy clown when I see him. He loves showing off bounding through show, racing up trees, leading the way with sudden stops to trip me up. Days in the twenties don’t slow him down.

As I put on the layers getting ready to go out to milk or put out hay or carry water, I look at those wonderful fur coats and sigh. I try to remember that next summer those fur coats won’t look so tempting.