Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Common Purslane Weedy Pest

Common purslane aka pusley aka pursley is a gardener’s nightmare – maybe. It has been used as a wild green and a medicinal plant historically. It is cultivated in the Middle East as animal fodder.

No one knows where puslane came from. Perhaps it came with the colonists. Yet its seeds are found in ancient archaeological sites in North America. Purslane doesn’t care. It lives anywhere it can internationally.

common purslane plant

This pot got overlooked in the spring. Common purslane doesn’t mind. It happily filled the pot with stems, leaves and flowers.

The plant seems to prefer gardens and flower pots around my home. That may be because it is more noticeable there.

Common purslane looks like a succulent with its thick stems. The leaves aren’t thick, yet give the impression they are. They have  broad, blunt tips.

Moss roses or Portulaca is a cultivated relative known for its beautiful flowers. Purslane flowers are similar, but much smaller and only in yellow. They bloom early in the morning, vanishing by noon.

common purslane leaf

Common purslane leaves are thicker than many other kinds of leaves, but not as thick as succulent leaves usually are. They have shiny surfaces covered with minute waxy spots.

The leaves fold up by evening in hot weather. Even the plant seems to fold up to sleep through the night.

There are so many kinds of weeds in my garden, common purslane may have grown there for years. It got pulled, tossed in the wheelbarrow and rolled away with the others.

common purslane stems

Common purslane stems are thick with a waxy look to them. They can turn mostly dull red.

Last year a plant got overlooked. It grew big and luxurious for a purslane. This means it sprawled out over the garden path with foot long stems. These were nearly half an inch thick, glossy reddish green.

I noticed it. I took the usual group of pictures except for flowers. Since I usually work in the garden in late afternoon, the flowers were long gone. That made identification difficult, but not impossible in this case.

common purslane flower

I suspect the common purslane flowers open more than this, if I spot them earlier than after milking is done. They may open at night and start closing in the morning.

This year I’m taking a few minutes to see the flowers. I haven’t nibbled on any yet. I’m thinking I will double check about the edibility of common purslane beforehand.

I may check out a stem or two with the goats. Weeds are much better nutritionally than the usual pasture grasses. Purslane may spread itself generously earning the name of weedy pest, but we may be condemning it unjustly.

Chicken Tractor Trials

Free range chickens have their problems. One is having chickens show up in the front yard, even coming onto the porch. This is an annoyance. I thought about building a chicken tractor.

A more serious problem is the threat of predators. My flock had no predators bother them for several years. Then a family of gray foxes moved onto the hill opposite the barn.

There were gray foxes on the house side of the road 25 years ago. I saw one now and then, even saw one climb a tree once. Gray foxes do climb trees. Red foxes don’t.

chicken tractor

The chicken tractor is about four feet wide by ten feet long with an open bottom. This is the second day and the hens were happier with a rooster in the tractor with them. The nest box was too exposed so an old towel was laid over to make a wall over and behind. The hens are nervous being out in the grass danger area (known to be close to the fox run). they don’t understand how they can be outside and not able to race off to wherever. This tractor is definitely not fox proof so I put chickens out only when I will be going by frequently. Besides, the shade keeps moving and the sun is hot.

Fifteen or more years ago the foxes moved away. No new ones moved in until a month or so ago.

Foxes love chicken dinner. My hens started to disappear.

The only solution is to keep the flock confined. The chickens hate it. The hot weather makes it worse.

A chicken tractor became more appealing. The flock still numbers 22. Moveable chicken pens normally hold less than a dozen.

hen in chicken tractor

This hen wants out! She paces back and forth along the wire poking at it. She did finally settle down a bit.

I looked up chicken tractors. All chicken tractors have some kind of sturdy frame covered with wire. Otherwise they come in many shapes and sizes. They are built of different materials. Which idea might work for me? Is a chicken tractor the answer?

A friend has loaned me her version. It isn’t fancy. It was their first attempt and has several things they would do differently in the future. Still, it was a chance for me to try a chicken tractor out and see if it will work for my flock.

My hens range from one year to five years old. They are a motley crew of various breeds. There are three roosters whose main activity is to argue with one another. As the tractor only holds six or seven chickens, I would have to pick some out for that day.

chickens eating in chicken tractor

It occurred to me the chickens go in and out of their house to eat at the feeder. I put a dish of feed out in the chicken tractor. They ate the first one so I put in a second one. This seemed to make the hens settle down.

I snagged seven hens and shoved them into the chicken tractor. They got upset at being caught. They were not impressed by being in a cage. Having access to fresh grass didn’t cheer most of them up.

Next time I snagged six hens and a rooster. They seemed a bit happier. Water fount and nest box made the tractor better in their opinion. They still pace the wire wanting out.

I am learning. I hope the chickens will learn too. It’s hard for them to be confined after being free range.

Frustrating Tomatoes

We seem to have planted a lot of frustrating tomatoes. We aren’t the only ones, or so I hear.

Tomatoes are great eaten plain, in sandwiches, on pizza, in salad, grilled with feta cheese, so many ways. They look great too with that flattened round, red shape.

The tomatoes in the store look beautiful. Pick one up and it feels like it would bounce on the floor and not bruise. Take a bite out of one and it could be an apple.

This may be a tomato to city people. It’s fake to me.

My tomatoes are firm, yet soft. They bruise easily, if dropped. Normally they tend to splat on the floor. Biting into one lets juice run down your chin as rich taste fills your mouth.

frustrating tomatoes

These Mortgage Lifter tomatoes get medium to large. They take time to swell to full size and more time to turn color and get ripe. They tend to get ripe about the time the gardener gets disgusted and doesn’t check one morning.

Tomatoes are a summer crop. Any hint of frost nips or kills the plants. The challenge is to put transplants in the ground as soon as possible, protecting the plants from spring frosts resulting in ripe tomatoes as early in the summer as possible.

The problem with planting tomatoes early is cold ground. The frustrating tomatoes hunker down refusing to grow until the ground warms up.

Black plastic on the ground around the plants helps overcome this. As soon as night temperatures get up into the sixties, the plastic must be taken up or the roots will get too hot. Then mulch goes down to keep the ground from getting too hot and dry.

Tomato plants sprawl out across the ground. Box turtles love this as any ripe tomatoes are at just the right height for turtle snacks. Sow bugs, slugs, mice and other critters agree.

These frustrating tomatoes don’t vine or have tendrils. The plants must be tied up or caged to keep them up off the ground. Commercial tomato cages are quickly outgrown and fall over.

frustrating tomatoes are not cherry tomatoes

Husky Cherry Tomatoes are about an inch in diameter. They grow in clusters of six or eight on dense vines that tend to stay short. The best part is how soon the tomatoes get ripe.

Finally blossoms appear on the plants Tiny green tomatoes start to swell. And they stay green. Frustrating tomatoes seem to slowly get bigger, stubbornly remaining green for weeks.

That is the appeal of cherry tomatoes. True, they are small. Maybe that is why they turn red and ripen more quickly. They are also prolific. And they can be used any way a big tomato is used.

Big tomatoes are frustrating tomatoes, but awaited impatiently. In the meantime, cherry tomatoes make great snacks.

And they taste like real tomatoes.

Enduring Ozark Summer Heat

Missouri Ozark weather is usually changeable. Lately the changes have been slow in coming. Summer heat has been sitting here for a couple of weeks.

Temperature is only part of the story in the Ozarks. The other part is the humidity.

Our bodies sweat. It evaporates. Our bodies cool down. Humidity slows or stops the evaporation so we stay hot and feel hotter than the temperature warrants. Lately humidity levels have rivaled the temperature.

cat sleeps through summer heat

My cat Cloudy sprawls out on the grass next to the sidewalk occupied by my cat Burton. both await my appearance to serve dinner. They look so comfortable. They make it tempting to join them.

Cats don’t sweat. When summer heat settles in, they find a shady spot and sprawl out. Favorite haunts are often in front of doorways. Open the door. Find splat cat lying a step outside.

Chickens move into the shade. My flock has lost its favorite haunts as a pair of gray foxes has moved into the area. The chickens now hang out around the goat barn.

summer heat makes chickens pant

Chickens try to slick down their feathers. Then they start panting. These three are in a shady corner of their yard. A family of gray foxes has moved to the area so the chickens stay on full alert through the heat.

Horseflies and deerflies influence the goats. These insects have vicious bites. The goats come in with big, raised welts oozing moisture. The flies like sun and moist areas.

The goats go up on the hills and tuck themselves into deep shade under the oaks. Unfortunately the best browse is down in lower areas.

My herd is smaller now, only seventeen goats. They pack themselves into as small an area as possible. Each goat hopes the flies visit the neighboring goat or can be rubbed off onto the next goat.

Nubian goats in summer heat

Goats pant when they get hot. The herd loafs in shady areas most of the afternoon. My herd goes up over the hills and down the ravine during the day, between layovers in deeper shade. Once the air starts cooling, the herd comes out into the pasture to graze.

Toward midsummer the horseflies move up close to the goat barn. The goats don’t appreciate this. The chickens do.

Savvy chickens stalk the goats watching for flies to land. Snack time.

Summer heat is making work difficult. It’s too hot for me to work outside, even in the shade by noon. My barn is almost cleaned out. I keep trying to take out a few loads of manure each day.

Noon means coming in to change shirts as the morning shirt is sopping wet. There is a rumor this summer heat will break for a few days by the end of the week. All of us need the break.

Livestock Decisions

My Nubian dairy goats are livestock. They are business. They are also a hobby. They are also pets. That creates problems.

Raising livestock is like any other farming or ranching business. It is supposed to make a profit.

Raising livestock as a hobby can remove the profit requirement. Pets aren’t supposed to make a profit.

spotted Nubian buck is livestock

One thing this Nubian buckling has is spots. He was born March 15 and is disbudded. His mother is High Reaches Agate. His sire is High Reaches Augustus.

Hay and grain are part of raising livestock. Goats love to eat. They are messy eaters. As food just appears in front of them, they can drop some on the floor. More will appear later.

Purchasing hay and grain is expensive. That dropped feed and hay is money ground into the mud.

polled Nubian buck is livestock

Polled goats are becoming popular again. This black Nubian buck, born March 16, is polled. His mother, High Reaches Lydia, is polled.

Goats do get sick. They get parasites such as intestinal worms. Medicines and wormers are expensive.

Livestock requires equipment. I get by with a minimum, but still have hoof trimmers, disbudding iron and other items. Luckily these can last for years with a little care.

frosted spotted Nubian doe is livestock

This frosted gray spotted Nubian doe thinks cameras are suspicious. Whe was born March 15 and is disbudded. Her mother is High Reaches Agate.

Before retiring, these expenses weren’t a big problem. Now the goats must pay their way, at least much of it.

My goats bring in money from milk and selling kids. I’m not a commercial dairy and don’t officially sell milk. Still, other people in the area are like me: intolerant of cow’s milk.

Selling kids is where much of my hay money comes from. My kids are now close to three months old now. They are for sale.

two Nubian does are livestock

High Reaches Rose has a Nubian doe with interesting color patterns. She is black with spots. Her face is half white and half black and has red highlights. she was born March 12 and is disbudded. My older bottle baby is ignoring the camera. She is black with spots. She was born March 9 and is disbudded. Her mother is High Reaches Matilda. There is a fourth doe, a month younger and a frosted black.

In past years I’ve kept a kid or two or three. This made it easier to say good-bye to the others.

Getting older changes things. Raising livestock is work. Each year the work seems harder and takes longer. The solution is to have fewer goats.

My goats are pets. I know each and every one and have since they were born. The obvious solution is to not keep any kids. The adults get old and die. The herd gets smaller.

And saying good-bye to the kids gets harder, especially the bottle babies.

Dora’s Story deals with some of these issues following Dora, an Alpine/Nubian dairy goat, through several owners.

Young Pullets Go Exploring

It’s dangerous to stand in front of my little chicken house door in the morning. The attack of the young pullets begins as soon as I open it.

Those cute balls of fluff went through the ragged feather growing stage. They became miniature chickens.

young pullets watching

After the great escape, the pullets gather to watch the monster – me – refill their food and water. Once this is done and the monster withdraws, the great escape is reversed until breakfast is eaten.

The chicks were content to sleep grouped into their protective cage. Young pullets want to sleep on a roost.

Little chicks were happy scratching around inside their house. Now the great outdoors beckons.

This is where the dangerous part comes in.

Full grown buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and New Hampshires can fly, but not well as they are too heavy. Young pullets don’t have that problem.

young pullets

Even small pullets have perfected the watchful glare of a hen. Occasionally a most un-chick-like squawk is heard.

I open the door. Flying pullets shoot out the door into their yard.

For a week or so this yard was their bigger world. Then a roll of chicken wire with stakes made their yard bigger. Now they are off chasing each other and any bug unlucky enough to crawl or fly by.

The main objective of both the chickens and my young pullets is not finding bugs. They like grass. They spend lots of time grazing.

This is the main reason all of my chickens are let out to roam around the compound containing the workshop and barn. Their yards are devoid of grass. It has been eaten and killed off by high nitrogen chicken manure.

Perhaps someday I will have a chicken tractor, one of those moveable chicken houses and pens. Each day the tractor is moved to a new spot. The chickens would be safer.

young pullets at garden fence

A fence is a challenge. Whatever is on the other side simply must be better. These young pullets are still small enough to squeeze through the fence and a few do.

The other alternative is a new chicken house surrounded by four or five yards. The chickens would have access to one yard at a time giving the grass time to recover between onslaughts.

My chicken flock only needs ten to twelve new members. My young pullets number twenty-one. All of them are so nice.

One of the hard things about raising livestock is letting some of them go to new homes. It isn’t possible to keep them all. Half my young pullets will have to move away. I have to choose and all of them are so pretty.

Cleaning Up After High Water

Another round of rain began as I came in from milking in the evening. Clouds had already dropped two and a half inches this week. It was slow, soaking in with no cleaning up needed.

Steady drumming accented with lightning and thunder continued until long after sleep claimed everyone. Morning light brought the rush of moving water.

The rain hadn’t stayed slow and steady. It poured. Rising waters had rampaged for a time, then dropped to a smaller torrent.

creek after flood

Last night’s flood has passed leaving the creek muddy and foaming. Debris left on the pastures marks the water’s high level. Debris is trapped against trees along the creek.

Cleaning up displaced all other tasks. The road washed out where the wet weather creek roared out next to the driveway leaving a three foot deep hole. The large rocks put into the culvert hole were across and down the road.

There was a culvert across the road at that spot twenty-five years ago. It washed out and was never replaced. The hole washed out every time the wet weather creek flooded. We filled it with large rocks to slow this down. Usually they work.

cleaning up the road means moving rocks and gravel

A wet weather creek poured out onto the road tearing off the gravel and rolling out large rocks leaving a three foot deep ditch across most of the road. Yes, the neighbor drove into the ditch and scraped the underside of his truck getting out again. The first step of cleaning up was putting the large rocks back into the hole.

The small pasture fence was flattened for thirty feet. Leaves, branches and road gravel are piled onto the wire.

My goats went out to pasture to find the bridge is washed out. The I-beams are still there. The approach is half gone. Many of the planks are gone. They didn’t cross the creek.

cleaning up downed fencing is hard work

Leaves and branches caught in the fence. road gravel piled on. Fence posts gave way leaving thirty feet of fence flattened. Cleaning up starts with pulling leaves and branches loose. Then the gravel is hoed away. Finally the posts are straightened or replaced so the wire can be raised.

What happened on the other side of the creek? I don’t know yet. The creek is too high to wade across. It doesn’t matter for now. Cleaning up this side will take time.

The neighbor came by while I was milking and drove into the hole in his large pickup. I heard the frame scrape on the edge of the road.

cleaning up the creek bridge will take weeks

High water often carries the bridge planks away. We find them, bring them back and pace them back on the bridge. This time cleaning up means filling in where the bank has been carved out.

Cleaning up began. First some large rocks went into the hole in the road.

Cleaning off and standing up the pasture fence will take several days. I cleared the first foot of debris off the top of the fence leaving the gravel.

Gravel is hard to move. It is heavy. It is full of rocks. Maybe I’ll use the tractor to move at least some of it. The driveway needs it.

Storms and floods are the topic of an essay in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.” They are a section of “My Ozark Home” due out this summer.

Enjoying Warm Spring Days

I love warm spring days. They are made for being outside.

That means cleaning out the goat barn. The warm sun is enjoyed on trips to the manure pile.

The next item on the list is clearing more garden paths. The dead nettle and chickweed are dying and seeding. It’s time to pull these and mulch the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over this summer.

Nubian doe High Reaches Topaz Willa

High Reaches Topaz Willa is getting old. She went to sleep. When she woke, she was alone. She came to the barn to find someone and found me.

This day I am rescued from the garden by a goat. It seems Willa has gotten separated from the herd. She came to the barn lot seeking help finding the herd.

The first warm spring days are special. Only dogged determination and the terrible mess keep me working in the goat barn.

A goat in trouble takes precedent. I empty the load of manure and go to the house to change into hiking boots. Grabbing my camera and walking stick, I am ready to take Willa back out to pasture.

goats reappear

I am amazed by how easily a herd of goats can disappear and reappear. Willa went to sleep and the herd disappeared. We passed this spot going to the ravine and no one was here. Now the herd stands here wondering what we are up to.

The herd had disappeared up a hill that morning. Two ways down are favored by around early afternoon. Lately the herd was taking the long route down into the ravine.

Willa and I go to the ravine. No herd. Willa is happy to have company and starts grazing.

Camera in hand I go down to visit several tagged trees. Last summer I identified these trees, tagged them and have taken pictures of their bark, buds and winter looks. Now these are ready to bloom.

goats like warm spring days

My Nubian goats are enjoying the spring weather. They race around gorging on seeding grasses and budding brush, then lie down in the shade to chew their cuds.

Two are in bloom and I take pictures. This is when my walking stick comes in handy. It has a hook on the end for pulling down branches as I have yet to learn to levitate and don’t climb trees.

Willa comes looking for me. We resume our search heading down the hill pasture toward the creek.

The herd has materialized by the creek. Willa is reunited with them and her kid.

I check out another tree. The shingle oak is in bloom.

greening hills on warm spring days

Overnight the trees have greened. The grass is lush. The breeze is warm and light. The clouds sail overhead billowing into shapes and morphing into new ones. Quiet surrounds you, fills you, heals you. This is my Ozarks in spring.

Turning to look back at the hills, a warm breeze ruffles my hair. The smell of dogwoods adds a little perfume. The trees are leafing out turning the hills light green. The goats are relaxing in the shade.

I turn back toward the garden. I walk past it and off onto another hill, up another ravine in search of lady slippers.

Warm spring days are too precious to spend working all day.

Watch for the new book “My Ozark Home” due out later this year. For now, check out Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Kids Find Playgrounds Everywhere

The fun part of raising goat kids is watching them play. They find playgrounds everywhere.
Goats trace their wild cousins into the mountains of Asia. Mountain animals climb. Goat kids love to be on top of things.
In the barn the kids use their mothers for playgrounds. After a big rainstorm, all my does are covered with mud from little muddy hooves standing on them as they try to sleep.
For the most part goat mothers are tolerant. They ignore the little hooves bouncing on them and leaping onto their sides and backs.
In the barn lot the kids race up and down the goat gym. When they finally wear out, the gym steps make great places for a nap.

firewood playgrounds are also nap places for Nubian doe kids

The fallen sycamores are cut into short pieces of firewood. After playing on the pieces, these little Nubian does find a good place for resting.

The pastures offer the most opportunities for finding playgrounds. The grassy parts are only good for naps. The woods and ravines are the best.
The ravines have wet weather creeks in them. These are usually deeply eroded channels snaking their way down the spaces between the hills.

Creek bed playgrounds are good places for a Nubian kid fight

Barely six weeks old these little Nubian bucks are already testing their fighting skills. the edge of the creek bed has good places for this and stumps for napping.Nubian

When water travels at high speed, it undercuts trees along the channels. It leaves boulders exposed. Kids jump down from the pastures onto these perches. They leap back up. They play king of the mountain.
Last year’s storms blew down many trees. It will be years before these fallen giants are gone for lumber, firewood or rot away. Until then, they are another source of kid playgrounds.
Kids leap up onto the trunks and chase each other up and down. Kids get up at each end and challenge each other or squeeze past each other. Their balance is amazing as they race at full speed up these rounded paths.

fallen tree playgrounds for Nubian kids

The fallen tree is wide enough for one Nubian kid. These two are trying to squeeze past each other and rejoin the other kids in play.

Some of the trees blew over, but lodged in nearby trees. Those at low enough angles become climbing places for kids. Luckily those trees aren’t so far off the ground that a kid falling off gets hurt.
Goat kids grow up so fast. They play a lot at a month old. They still play at two months old. At three months eating is more important than playing. I need to get out more to watch my kids play before they get much older.

Goat kids are playful and full of antics. Check out Capri Capers for Capri’s antics.

Chicks Grow Up Fast

My chicks arrived two weeks ago. They were little balls of fluff. Chicks grow fast.

Now those balls of fluff have tiny tails and wings. They love to race across the floor flapping their wings. They can’t get off the ground yet.

These pullets are a tough bunch. My chick house has no insulation. The walls are wood covered with metal. There are plenty of air leaks. The outside temperature is the inside temperature.

chicks grow and need less heat

Different breeds of chickens look very different. I like lots of them and have several breeds in my flock. There are four kinds of pullets.
The black ones are barred rocks. The plain buff feathers are buff Orpingtons. The brown with black bars feathers are New Hampshire. The chicks with cheek puffs are Easter Eggers who grow up to lay blue and green eggs. By three weeks of age almost all of the fluff will be gone and the pullets will become gangling adolescents.

The chicks huddled under their light when the temperatures plunged. Even with blankets wrapped around the cage, they were cool.

Well, one night I put an extra blanket on and they got too hot.

Chicks grow up fast. They don’t need a hot heat lamp now. Their feathers keep them warm. And they have doubled in size. Besides, the temperatures are approaching normal spring ranges.

Hazel is raising chicks in Mistaken Promises. Grandfather talked about chickens and fresh eggs until she thought it would be fun. After committing herself by talking Lily into joining the 4-H Poultry Project with her, she discovered the work.

Chickens are one of the easier ways to be a country person. Depending on the breed and standard or bantam, chickens can be kept in a small area. With handling many breeds can become pets.

chicks grow feathers fast

Ball of fluff chicks are cute. Larger chicks feathering out look disheveled. This is when they produce lots of dust. This is a Buff Orpington pullet chick like those Hazel Whitmore is raising in Mistaken Promises.

Hazel and Lily have Buff Orpingtons. These are one of the breeds easy to make into pets. The hens are a golden buff color. Their feathers are fluffy. They are docile and calm.

Grandfather built Hazel’s chicken house years before for his wife Helen. He built a sturdy building. He had a nice brooder hood. Hazel’s chicks lived in style.

I’m jealous.

County fairs in rural Missouri are the place for 4-H members to exhibit their livestock and crafts. Hazel will show her pullets at the county fair. But Hazel is being stalked by one who hates her and all around her. And that person is at the fair too.

Mistaken Promises is the third in the Hazel Whitmore middle grade series. It will be release this fall. The first two, Broken Promises and Old Promises, are available now.

Writing Mistaken Promises

Mistaken Promises is the third book about Hazel Whitmore. It is a long overdue book.

The series began with a simple premise: city girl moves to the country. A favorite series for me is Anne of Green Gables. It too has such a basic theme.

Broken Promises was my first attempt at writing a novel. Like all new writers, I had such grand ideas and little knowledge of how to realize them.

The book draft was a disaster.

Broken Promises

A couple of years later I resurrected the novel. The basic idea was the same. The plot was totally different. This time the novel came together and became Broken Promises.

The book had a major flaw. Hazel didn’t leave the city until the last chapter. A second book was necessary to put the city girl in the country.

And Old Promises was written. Hazel lives in the country. At heart she is still a city girl.

Old Promises

Many people move to the country, but never really leave the city behind them. Some try, but are overdoing it. This burns them out quickly and they leave or go back to being city people living in the country.

Hazel doesn’t know yet. She misses many of the things from the city. She finds she values some things in the country.

The plot in Old Promises centered on a family feud rooted in the past. It erupts at the end in tragedy. This does not end the feud or solve the problems.

Mistaken Promises was born in that tragedy. The feud and the bullying Hazel thought were over, are back and far different from the previous semester at Hanging Rock School.

Hazel, still the city girl, finds being part of the country is interesting. She can have her cats, her chickens and get fresh vegetables to cook. None of these was possible in New York City.

Internet service is slow. Cell phone service skips her house. Possible friends live far away. Entertainment such as plays, theater, Central Park are dreams from her past now.

What will the future bring to this transplanted city girl? At thirteen, Hazel is still deciding on her future and trying to survive to live it.

Meet Hazel Whitmore in the first two books of the series: Broken Promises and Old Promises.

Baby Chicks Arriving

Last year I let one of my hens set some eggs. A second hen started to set, but quit. That’s the problem with many of today’s hens: They don’t set and hatch baby chicks.

The seven chicks the hen hatched did fine. They grew quickly as the hen shepherded them around in their yard. Five of them grew big combs.

Three roosters argue over who is ruling the hen house already. More roosters aren’t wanted or needed. Hens are welcome.

Baby chicks cage

This arrangement worked fine on a warm day. It failed the chick test: they were cold. The light moved into the cage and blankets went up around the cage. The chicks were happy through a cool night in the forties.

Having new pullets in the fall is nice as they start laying and lay through the winter fairly regularly. Older hens don’t lay regularly over the winter, at least mine don’t. I prefer the heavier breeds, not the egg production breeds.

Eggs were in short supply this last winter.

Older hens lay fewer, but larger eggs. Many of my hens are not just older, but ancient for chickens.

This year I ordered baby chicks. As I don’t plan on dressing any roosters out this year, all the chicks are supposed to be pullets. There will be twenty-two baby chicks.

There is a chick house. It isn’t fancy as I was the carpenter. The last time I used it, the black snakes found a way in. And the roof decided to leak.

baby chicks huddle

The ultimate test of a chick set up is given by the chicks when they arrive. These chicks are huddling. They aren’t real cold, but they are not warm enough. They are not giving distress calls. The light was too far away. Moving it into the cage made the chicks much happier.

The house has new wire up around the eaves. Every hole I could find is plugged. The roof is tarred.

Still, black snakes are wily creatures. They can find holes where I see none. I have a wire cage.

The cage isn’t very big. It is big enough for a couple dozen baby chicks. The holes should be too small for the big snakes to get in. My chicks will start out in it.

happy baby chicks

Happy chicks cheep softly and rummage around getting drinks of water and eating food. Sometimes the entire flock will lie down on the floor to sleep.

Another advantage to using this cage is keeping the chicks warm. This spring has temperatures rivaling a yoyo tournament. Even the best days have stayed in the fifties and sixties, flirting with freezing at night.

So the chick house is set up. The floor is covered with feed sacks for when the chicks get big enough to get out of the cage. The cage is set up with cardboard around it, a heat light over it and supports for blankets at night.

The containers are full of chick starter. The glass waterers are cleaned and ready. The cage floor has layers of newspaper down so one layer at a time can be taken out revealing a clean layer below.

All is ready. And we wait. The baby chicks will arrive in a day or two.

Rural living is different. Livestock is a serious responsibility. Check out Dora’s Story.

Cute Goat Pictures

Each week I browse through a Sunday paper. The latest one announced a call for goat pictures specifying cute or funny.

I seem to have a lot of goat pictures. Are any of them cute or funny? Is my definition of cute or funny the same as that of the paper?

action goat pictures

Action shots are the hard ones. The goat is moving which can cause blurring unless the camera lens speed is high, but then less light is let in the lens so the picture can come out black. The action is often some distance away necessitating using the zoom. The higher the magnification, the easier it is to move the camera blurring the picture. This is High Reaches Silk’s Augustus as a kid.

Any excuse to browse through goat pictures is welcome. I went browsing.

Kids are cute. They are among the cutest baby animals around. They are notoriously difficult to photograph acting cute or funny.

flying ears action goat pictures

Nubian ears are long and seem to act as wings when a kid runs bouncing and leaping across the ground. For every acceptable action kid picture, I delete five or ten. Taking such pictures takes lots of time following the herd around until they get bored enough with having me around to start acting almost normally again.

This difficulty is due to the tremendous energy filling the kids. They are only still when snoozing, usually in a place difficult to use a camera. Any other time they are a blur racing around. By the time the camera is aimed at the cute kid, it’s moved on and is no longer cute.

Goats as a rule don’t like getting their pictures taken. I go out several times a year to get pictures to update my picture galleries. I walk by the herd on various hikes and stop to take a picture or two.

action goat pictures

Nubian bucks love to test their skills against one another. They love to play. Augustus and Gaius played like this for half an hour or more. I took lots of pictures and kept a half dozen. Augustus would rear up, then plunge down so fast he was only a blur. To get a good picture meant setting the camera up and waiting until Augustus was at the peak, then snapping the picture hoping to get it before he came crashing down.

The goats see the camera and turn their rumps to me. Another ploy is to walk up and lick the lens. Then there are the ‘scratch suddenly’ or ‘toss the head’ or ‘move into the middle of the group’ ploys.

doe and kid goat pictures

Nubian goat kids learn many difficult lessons as they grow up. One is how to follow mother goat both out and in from pasture. High Reaches Jewel’s Sasha is so unhappy being stuck in the barn lot while her friends are out grazing. Young kids get tired quickly, lie down, go to sleep and get left behind. They are hard to find nestled down in the grass. This afternoon was the first day Sasha’s kid was allowed out with her mother. Sasha is determined to find the herd and leads her kid down the trail. The kid gamely keeps up. This picture was a lucky one as I happened to be out with my camera and looked back to see Sasha and kid coming behind me.

I see the cute, funny, beautiful goat pictures on Pinterest. I think “If that person can do this, I can too.” Then I go home, get my camera and get laughed at by my goats as they dare me to try.

Still, I do get lucky from time to time. Maybe these other people get lucky too.

cute goat pictures

Goat kids can be so cute. This pair went out with the herd and laid down to rest while the herd grazed nearby. The first thing most people notice about Nubian goat kids is the ears, especially if they are frosted (white).

The secret to great goat pictures seems to have two sides. One is having help to set the goat up for a great picture as for a show picture. The other is luck perhaps with someone to distract the goats from the camera or trigger a great shot.

sweet goat pictures

This is one of those goat pictures both cute and special. Nubian does don’t often sleep with their young kids. Augustus was one of Silk’s last kids and she was very attached to him. Goat kids form play groups and tend to sleep with the group. Augustus always preferred Silk to his peers. But finding the two together, not waking Silk up and getting the picture was luck.

Unfortunately I have no help. I must continue to trust to luck and value the special shots I do manage to get.

Cute goat pictures are scattered throughout Goat Games. Check it out.

Frustrating Weather

Along the coasts frustrating weather between seasons is rare. The ocean is a huge temperature sink moderating the air temperatures. this lets one season merge smoothly into the next.

In the middle of the country, like Missouri, such influences are nonexistent. Frustrating weather becomes normal.

March is supposed to be spring. It is on the calendar. It isn’t outside – today. Yesterday was a balmy seventy-four degrees. Today the temperature sits at thirty-six degrees.

frustrating weather affects alder

Black or common alder and hazelnut bushes look very similar over the winter, same size, same gray bark. Even the catkins are similar unless you look carefully. The easy difference is the female flower. Alders have cones as in the picture. Hazelnuts have little cylinders with a spray of red threads – the split pistils – sticking out.

Even the wild plants don’t like this frustrating weather. The alders and hazelnuts are blooming. The spicebush buds are big yellow globes poised to burst open.

Frustrating weather has these plants and others surging into spring one day and sending them back to winter the next. Spring is trying. Winter is resisting.

spicebush blooms despite frustrating weather

Spicebush blooms in early spring, as soon as the weather warms up. The buds started swelling during the first warm spell. then they waited through the cold spell. Back and forth as the temperatures varied until the buds are finally opening in spite of the weather.

Gardening time is starting. Potatoes are already stashed under the mulch trying to grow. Peas are trying to germinate.

Mulch does help. The surface temperature varies widely. The underneath temperature stays fairly steady, at least under six inches of mulch, it does.

I don’t have a heated greenhouse for starting seeds. Tomato and pepper seedlings need two things to do well. One is warm temperatures. The other is lots of sunlight.

The first was easy. I put the seeds on damp sand in Petri dishes set on a shelf in front of the wood stove fan. The seeds happily germinated and went into cups of soil.

frustrating weather hurts seedlings

Cups of soil take up lots of room. Germinating the seeds in small containers works well. The seedlings are moved into the cups when the root is a quarter to half an inch long. I press a finger into the damp dirt, place the seedling against the side of the hole so the top is just under the rim, then back fill the hole, tamping the soil down. The seedling pokes up through the soil in a day or two. The cups are in various kinds of containers to make moving and watering are easier. The containers come in overnight and go out on the porch on warmer (57 degrees and up) days.

Usually I ferry the trays of seedlings out onto the front porch for the day. That way the seedlings get plenty of light.

But the temperatures must be sixty degrees minimum. Thirty-six degrees is not warm enough.

Seedlings don’t understand about cold days. They want to grow and do. They become spindly. If they get too bad, I must try again.

Frustrating weather strikes again.

I can only hope the weather warms up again tomorrow. It is supposed to rain off and on for the next week. The porch has a roof.

All the seedlings and I really want right now are some more warm spring temperatures.

Doe Kid, Buck Kid, Misidentification

Now, any goat owner will tell you it’s easy to tell a doe kid from a buck kid. There are several very obvious differences.

Buck kids have scrotums. They are smooth under the tail. They urinate from the middle of their bellies with their legs planted out in a rectangle.

Doe kids have a tiny vulva under their tails. They squat to urinate. They tend to have smaller, more streamlined heads than buck kids.

buck and doe kid

These two Nubian kids are so alike in size. I assumed both were bucks. Wrong. The black one is a buck. The gray one is a doe.

Telling a doe kid from a buck kid is much easier than figuring out whether or not a kid is polled. For that the hair is swirled over the horn buds and smooth over polled. Hair can stick up or otherwise distort this look.

Three does had kids. Agate was first in the morning. Violet was acting like kids all day but had them in the morning. Lydia had hers that evening.

There was enough time to leisurely take care of each kid set. I took a cursory check and decided Agate had two little bucks. She moved into the large pen with Matilda and Rose.

Nubian buck kid

This little kid is definitely a buck. I double checked. High Reaches Agate isn’t concerned about it. She loves her kids.

That was a mistake. Matilda started chasing Agate. Hay was a temporary distraction. The chase resumed.

Matilda and her week old buck moved into the barn. Peace reigned in the kidding pen. The kids piled up in their cubby hole and slept.

Nubian High Reaches Agate with her kids

The problem with an Houdini buck is keeping him away from yearlings. So High Reaches Agate had twins at just over a year old. She had little trouble kidding, but didn’t know what had happened. She stood looking at the kids, then at me, then at the kids. She sniffed them, but didn’t talk to them. Finally one of the kids started talking. Agate is now a devoted mother goat.

Kids have trouble staying warm for the first few days. They can be stepped on. I build cubby holes for them.

A kid cubby hole is a line of bales against an outside wall. Two bales are put in front spaced apart half the length of a bale.

Two bales are piled on top of the wall line behind the space. A bale is placed over the space leaving a cubby hole.

Kids move into the hole. The hay provides insulation. The small space stays warmer than the outer temperature and keeps drafts out. Does can sniff their kids but can’t step on them.

This year I’m short on hay. Two straw bales backed by thick flakes of straw with a two inch thick board over the top did the job.

Nubian doe kid

How could I ever think this lovely kid was a buckling? All I can think is that I was very careless. This is definitely a doeling belonging to High Reaches Agate.

Kids grow fast. They want to jump on things and run. Even a big kid pen is too small in a few days.

I moved the kids out into the barn while the rest of the herd was out to pasture. My barn is set up with kid cubby holes.

A sunny day invited pictures of these last six kids. I moved Agate and her kids out. That’s when I noticed. Agate doesn’t have two buck kids. She has one buck kid and one doe kid. Oops.

This is a buck year for me. There are six buck kids. With the addition of Agate’s doe kid, there are three doe kids.

And I’m reminding myself to be more careful in the future.

Goat kid antics play a part in the madcap adventures in Capri Capers. Check out the sample pages.

Doe Rejecting Her Kid

High Reaches Matilda is a good mother goat. She has raised triplets. This year she is rejecting her kid, the little doe from her twins.

The day started out like any other day. Morning chores went smoothly. The herd was lined up devouring morning hay.

Toward noon I opened the pasture goat. The herd rushed out. Hay is great, but new spring grass is much better.

kid Nubian doe kept

High Reaches Matilda’s little Nubian buckling is her pride and joy. He thinks he’s something important too. This is the kid Matilda decided to keep.

I watched the herd file off toward the north, closed the gate and went back to the barn to let the boys out. Matilda was still in the barn munching on hay.

This goat has been playing the ‘any time’ game for two or three weeks. She is one of the first out the pasture gate. Kids were due today.

Bucks can be nuisances. I let Gaius out and ran him out of the barn. He was upset as he wanted to scrounge for leftover hay. Instead I put a barrier across the door.

rejecting her kid doe

Why would High Reaches Matilda reject this lovely Nubian doe? She is lively, alert, active and pretty. Still, Matilda was very busy with her little buck and didn’t notice this one. When her attention was called to the doe, Matilda seemed to think this wasn’t hers.

Augustus hung over the barrier. Anything new needs investigation. He finally gave up and went out to eat fresh grass.

Matilda hung out in the barn all day. She was in labor. She had feet showing. She wanted to wait for the herd to come back, so she did – almost.

The first kid, a little frosted buck, was born about the time the herd was wandering back from pasture. A barn full of goats is not healthy for a newborn. I picked him up and led Matilda in to the kidding section.

Matilda was going to have a second kid, but I had to put the boys up and let the herd in. I left to do early evening chores. Matilda was happily taking care of her little buck.

When I got back, a second kid was on the straw. Matilda was still taking care of the little buck and ignoring the cries of this second kid.

Nubian doeling

Nubian doe High Reaches Rose is delighted with her little doe. This is Rose’s first kid, but she is a good mother.

Picking this second spotted kid up made Matilda stop to look her over. She gave her a couple of licks and turned back to her little buck. She was rejecting her kid.

Usually a doe rejecting her kid indicates something is wrong with the kid. One first freshner rejected her first kid and was a wonderful mother the second kidding. Why was Matilda rejecting her kid?

As far as I can tell, this kid is fine. She is active. She loves to eat. Evidently Matilda bonded to the first one and didn’t notice she had a second so assumes this one is being foisted off on her.

Whatever the reason, I now have a bottle baby.

New Kids Coming

This year’s new kids are due any day. Which day is never certain anymore as Augustus is a master of escape. Maybe I should change his name to Houdini.

Usually the arrival of new kids is anticipated enthusiastically. This year is different. I know I can keep none of the kids, no matter how cute or endearing or special.

Someone else will have those special kids. I get to see them for three months, then say good-bye.

Nubian High Reaches Matilda expecting new kids

Nubian High Reaches Matilda’s kids have settled. Still she is playing the ‘any day’ game making everyone wait to see her kids.

My herd is as big as I can care for now. It’s easier to sell the kids I’ve known for only a short while than does I’ve known for years. The kids will all leave.

Since only Augustus was in on when several of my does were bred, I am left watching and waiting. The does know this and do their best to look like today’s the day for weeks.

Matilda and Agate look like they will be first. Matilda’s kids have settled. She has sunk around her tail bone. Her udder is taking its time filling up.

Agate has discharge from time to time. She has a nice udder.

Nubian High Reaches Violet expecting new kids

Nubian High Reaches Violet is starting to waddle, but is not concerned. Her kids will arrive sometime in March.

Then there is Violet. Her udder is starting to fill out. Her kids haven’t settled yet. Her history is getting both done overnight.

In the meantime, I’ve put the barn in order. There is a large area for the new mothers and their new kids.

Pens are better, but are more difficult to set up. Two of my panels are in use and unavailable. A third could be used, if I have to. That leaves me two.

Agate expecting new kids

Nubian High Reaches Agate is getting ready to kid.

The two can become one pen or the front of a kidding area. The area was picked.

March is a waiting game now. I’m watching Matilda and Agate. However, Violet, Pixie, Lydia and Rose are getting ready too.

New kids are fun. Will they be does or bucks? Will they have spots? Will there be triplets? All of us are waiting to find out.

Writing Prompts Challenges

The last time I remember working with writing prompts was fourth grade. Mrs. Adams would put a line of pictures along the blackboard. Each student chose one to write a story about.

My books now trace themselves back to an idea about a plot or a character. I don’t think of these as writing prompts, but suppose they are. That is what a prompt is: a topic idea to build a story around.

goat show writing prompts

This is a good writing prompt for me, being at a goat show. Rural topics are a big challenge for city dwellers.

A writing buddy likes writing from these prompts and talked me into trying a weekly prompt. We trade off weeks coming up with an idea.

My writing prompts are usually some happening like picking up a coin. Hers are one word. The latest was Cursed. We tend to drive each other mad as the prompts force us to approach our writing from a new angle, get out of our comfort zones.

writing prompts fawn

Could you use this picture as a writing prompt? This fawn is old enough to start losing its spots and be on its own, but young enough to not race away when come across by a vehicle.

Cursed was such a word for me. I’m not much interested in the horror, occult or similar topics. I like much more practical, everyday topics. What could I do with this one?

The thing about a writing prompt piece is its rough draft quality. Many times the piece is written in a short time with no editing review. I came up with this one:

 

I stand assessing the enemy. I am bigger than the enemy. The enemy has vastly more members. I have weapons to attack my enemies. They have only their roots.

And, in the end, the enemy will win.

I know before beginning, the enemy will win. The enemy always wins this war. Still I get ready and go out to do battle hoping to delay the inevitable.

Smart people are supposed to learn from their mistakes. I fight this battle every year refusing to learn, or accept, my defeat.

Every fall I put up barriers to stop the enemy. Every spring I put up more barriers. The enemy’s numbers are reduced, but the army still comes.

Every spring I plow up the legions of tiny enemies. Every summer I dig and pull hundreds of my enemies. The enemy regroups and launches a new assault.

Why don’t I admit defeat? Why don’t I give up and surrender?

Each winter I consider quitting. I tabulate the costs in time and money. Both are precious commodities.

Spring wafts into view. The land greens. The air lightens. The birds sing. The seed racks and transplants arrive in the stores.

I am doomed, cursed, fated to fight the war another year.

Why? Why can’t I admit defeat? Why can’t I resist spring?

That first sun-ripened, sun-warmed tomato is why.

 

Yes, it is gardening season here. My spinach and turnips are sprouting. Flood cleanup has delayed putting the Buttercrunch lettuce in.

writing prompts floods

Nothing like ending a drought with six inches of rain and a flood. This might make a good writing prompt, but not until cleaning up is a distant memory.

I wanted to see the ravines in flood for the Carduan Chronicles. Wading through the water wasn’t an option.

Scrounging Winter Pasture

For months the goats were out gorging on grass and browse. Winter pasture has little to offer.

Last year’s wind storm blew down big trees. The goats sampled the leaves. There were too many leaves for the goats to eat all of them. Those remaining are now brown and dry.

Normally the grass is deep in the fall from late rains. The rains did not come. The grass is skimpy.

fallen trees are winter pasture

Trina and Flame are munching on the last of these leaves on a fallen oak. The leaves are a sad reminder of better times for browsing.

Goats used to walking miles every day don’t like being cooped up. They soon pick on each other. Since several are heavy with kids, this is not good.

Winter pasture helps. There may not be much to eat. The goats must go distances to scrounge what there is.

Don’t think the goats wear themselves out. Goats don’t walk as though on a treadmill. They wander to one area, nibble, lie down and relax. Then they get up and repeat the routine in another place.

Nubian doe in winter pasture

Nubian doe Sasha, the oldest doe, relaxes in the remains of the winter pasture.

Over the warm months the goats eat breakfast then line up at the pasture gate. Now the herd lines up in the barn waiting for hay. Only after the hay is eaten, trampled and otherwise disposed of, do the goats entertain the notion of going out to winter pasture.

Nubian kids on winter pasture

The three remaining Nubian doe kids are getting big. They play tagalong after the does on the swings through the winter pasture and the woods.

My routine changes accordingly. I milk, put out hay and go to the house. A couple of hours later I go back to the barn. If the weather is good, I let the goats out. If the weather is bad, more hay goes into the troughs.

The bucks root for good weather. The does and bucks share the barn lot. When the does are in, the bucks are in their pens. When the does go out, the bucks get out into the lot.

Nubian herd on winter pasture

Hope keeps the Nubians herd scrounging through the winter pasture and the woods. Maybe something new has appeared.

The rains seem to be returning. At least, several storms have dropped an inch of water each lately. The temperatures are warm for February. The grass has noticed and is putting up a few pioneer blades.

Perhaps winter pasture will give way to spring pasture in a couple of weeks. The goats would be delighted.

Designing Carduan Ravines

Ravines abound in the Ozark hills around me. Small ones are merely folds coming down hills. Narrow ones are where two hills are close together. Large ones can broaden into wide shelves of land adjoining a deep graveled creek bed.

For the Carduans, their ravine will be their world for a long time. The distance they can go exploring will be limited.

At a bit over five feet tall, a mile is 2,100 steps for me. That makes each step about two and a half feet long or half my height.

Since my Carduans average four inches tall, their steps would be two inches long. A mile is 63,360 inches long or 31,680 Carduan steps long, about a 15 mile equivalent.

Admittedly Ozark ravines aren’t that long. The longest one nearby is a mere half mile. This would still be a seven mile Carduan hike.

Carduan combined ravines

Creating a world for a novel is always a challenge whether the world is our own or on an alien planet. No Ozark ravine is the same as any other Ozark ravine. That made designing one for The Carduan Chronicles easy and hard. This is the rough draft. Next it needs a distance scale and detailed drawings. I wish I could just take a picture.

The immediate Carduan ravine therefore will need to have everything they will need within a short distance. What will they need?

First is their landing ledge. This almost level rock ledge juts out of a hillside and overhangs the ravine.

Second is a water source. Springs and seeps are a common Ozark feature. adding one to the Carduan ravine is reasonable.

Third is level ground suitable for agriculture. The Carduans are an agricultural people raising livestock and crops for food and fiber.

Fourth is a safe place to build homes. Ozark ravines are prone to flooding so this must be high enough to stay out of the flood waters. It must be defensible from coyotes, bobcats, owls, snakes and other predators who would consider the Carduans tasty snacks.

I went exploring nearby ravines. One yielded the perfect ledge rocks. First criterion met.

Another had two ravines joining, one with a spring and the other larger one with the possibility of level land. Another had a wonderful series of rock ledges for the spring water to descend in a series of small waterfalls. The second criterion met.

The level land came from another section of ravine. This has several ravines feeding into a main one creating deltas. These are high enough to avoid small high water events, but will flood once or twice a year. The Nile River would do this and provide wonderful soil for the Egyptians. Third criterion met.

The fourth criterion solution was found on the sides of a ravine. It will be noted as solved here as it is a part of the story.

So now I get to draw out the map.

The first of The Carduan Chronicles is schedules for release in October, 2018.

Designing the Carduan Space Ship

Winter weather has returned. Except for chores that must be done, staying inside is the main plan of action. I am back to work on The Carduan Chronicles including designing their space ship.

Space ships are the things of books for me. Teaching science I covered things like lift, payload and thrust as factors in flying. Paper airplanes and water rockets made great labs.

But space ships?

The Carduans arrive in a space ship. It’s a short flight, supply ship equipped to carry up to 60 passengers and cargo. It has no heavy weaponry or long range capabilities. All it has to do is accelerate to speed, drift into the worm tunnel, then land at the destination.

So I need a simple, bare bones space ship.

Where do I start? Dimensions. The Carduans are four inches tall. The ship must be six inches tall, minimum.

Carduan space ship for The Carduan Chronicles

This is the floor plan of the Carduan space ship. for The Carduan Chronicles. I prefer to work with pencil – it is erasable. I inked in the main lines so I could scan my design. Please forgive the roughness. There are lots of crates in the storage area. If they are standard size like the food crates, the piles are five high and six deep. What is in them? I don’t know. It’s like finding a pile of presents under a Christmas tree. As the story progresses, the crates will be opened and discoveries made.

The ship must have a thick, insulated hull as space is cold. There needs to be an area for wiring and other pipes inside that hull. There are the observation screens, the control computer areas, the passenger/cargo areas.

Two door locks provide ingress and egress. Engines and fuel tanks take room. There are solar batteries, bathroom, water reclaimer and storage, infirmary, air tank storage, trash area.

Unlike the NASA Gemini capsule, the Carduans want room to move around. The space ship keeps getting bigger and taller.

And the size has constraints. An Ozark ravine can be large. Even the rock ledges can be large. But trees are a problem.

Finally the Carduan space ship was stuffed into an oval 30 inches long and 18 inches wide. All the interior areas were fit in. And there was plenty of passenger/cargo room.

How tall should the ship be? At first I thought 18 inches. That was over four times the average height and seemed excessive. It shrank to 12 inches.

side view of Carduan space ship for The Carduan Chronicles

From the side, the Carduan space ship is rather plain. It has no windows. It should have several raised areas for the sensors. There would be one on the top, two on each side, one in front and one in the rear. I decided to go with rollers rather than wheels as they would provide better support across the ship. It is designed to carry cargo, possible heavy cargo. This is why there are three rollers. The rollers are four inches diameter extending two from the base of the ship to the ground.

That gives room for the engines at the rear. And additional cargo space over the engine compartment.

Since the ship is a short flight transport, main engine access can be from the outside. That lets me make the engine compartment only 6 inches high.

The ship must be able to land. Perhaps wheels such as are on airplanes would be better. Still, I wanted rollers, three of them. And I am designing the ship.

Is this the best space ship? Probably not. Is it a feasible ship? I don’t know. Does it work? It seems to. And that is what matters.

You may disagree or see some problem I missed. If so, please let me know.

Winter Garden Planning

Winter garden planning in January? It’s too cold to start seeds or grow anything. March or April makes more sense for garden planning.

Not really. March and April are months for planting. Without winter garden planning, what will I plant?

winter garden planning with garlic

The first part of winter garden planning for me is putting those garlic cloves into the dirt in October and mulching them. They don’t look like much in the cold and snow. Just wait.

Plans for me actually begin in the fall. I clear out the remains of the year’s garden, manure, cover beds and mulch the garden beds. The manure composts over the winter. The mulch keeps weeds from growing.

Many weeds start growing in the fall. By spring these are formidable plants. The most common in my garden are dead nettle and chickweed. Mulch stops these.

garlic in spring

Now this is a garlic bed! And those unhappy, spindly, cold garlic plants look like this after a month of spring weather.

I do allow these weeds to grow in my garden paths as they bloom early. Bees need early nectar sources. The pathways are weeded, covered and mulched about April.

What do I do for winter garden planning? First I decide what vegetables were popular, grew well and would be good for the next garden. Second I think about new vegetables to try. These are usually long lists.

Garden catalogs are great places for vegetable ideas. They do try to make every kind and variety sound too good to pass up.

winter garden planning for potatoes

Garden beds look so forlorn empty, covered with mulch and snow. These beds will grow potatoes in the spring.

The third step for winter garden planning is to map out the garden. My garden may seem large. It still has a limited number of beds. Even with succession planting, something that rarely works out well for me, my lists must be trimmed.

Each garden bed on my map is marked with what will be planted in it. The definite repeats from last year go in first. Then others are added as room permits.

This brings up the next consideration. Just how much do I need to grow?

I love growing potatoes. They usually grow well for me and make good eating.

spring potatoes

In April and May, those snow covered garden beds will be covered with big, green potato plants with potatoes hiding under the mulch.

There are two of us. We do not want to eat potatoes everyday. I do not want to throw potatoes away.

I plant three beds of potatoes. That is about ninety plants. Enough for us and a few friends.

Tomatoes are another popular crop. I normally plant four kinds: a paste, a red eating, a yellow eating and a cherry. Three plants of each produce plenty for fresh use, frozen supplies and extras.

My favorite vegetables are the colored bell peppers. Last year I grew eight colors. These might be popular at a Farmers Market, but most of mine ripen too late so I gave away several bags of them. This year I will grow four colors, eight plants of each.

In a way, winter garden planning is as hard as the actual garden is. My plan never quite works. Cold, wet spring weather or summer drought or heat wave or invading creatures don’t show up on the plan, but still happen.

Why keep doing a plan? So I can try to keep the chaos in check. Besides, I need to order seeds and start seedlings.

Planning Cardua Science Fiction

Winter is down time mostly for me. The garden is done. The goats are eating hay peeking out at the bad weather. The chickens are on vacation. I write. This winter I am planning Cardua.

What is Cardua?

It is Earth, except the Arkosans don’t know that. All they know is the little piece of the Ozarks where they are now stranded. They call it Cardua.

planning Cardua landing site

The Arkosan space ship is 30 inches long and 18 inches wide. Still, that requires a good sized rock ledge for it to land. These rocks are a bit small, but the ideal set up. The Carduan Chronicles begins with their arrival.

Science fiction is one of the genres I read lots of during and after university. I liked the science base used by Isaac Asimov. A modern novel in that vein is “The Martian” by Andy Weir.

So “The Carduan Chronicles” became a science-based science fiction survival tale. Nine Arkosans are stranded in an Ozark ravine. They arrive during a February ice storm. Since they are very small, they won’t venture far from where they landed.

That leaves me planning Cardua.

planning Cardua view

Compared to the Arkosans, I am a giant. So I got down to their level to see what they would see out the door lock on their space ship. The trees look a lot taller. The rock ledge has no easily seen boundary. That brings a new challenge in writing this book as I must remember to see the world through their eyes, not mine.

If you were stranded out in the wilderness, no phone, no way to contact anyone or get home, no hope of rescue, what would you need to survive? My list includes water, food, shelter and protection from predators and weather.

Why an Ozark ravine? Because I thought I had the perfect place a short distance from the house. Except I didn’t.

Now I am planning Cardua by using parts of several ravines and creating the perfect place for the story. First, the Arkosans needed a place to land their ship. I found two large, flat rocks sitting one on top of the other that will do nicely.

planning Cardua ravine

This Ozark glacier was a surprise find up in a ravine with the perfect set up for the Carduan landing site, if I move the rock ledge into place. The glacier could add some spice to the story as well. Ice skating anyone?

Second, the Arkosans will need a water source. In the beginning they will use ice from an ice storm. Later they will need a more permanent source.

The Ozarks have lots of springs and seeps. One branch of the Carduan ravine will have a spring. I found this in a different ravine.

Third, the Arkosans will need a place to build homes. I’m still working on this but have a couple of places with possibilities.

Fourth, the Arkosans will need flat land to farm. I found this in a ravine, actually two ravines. The problem is flooding. The flat lands are the mouths of wet weather creeks.

Research is part of writing. The nice part of planning Cardua is the excuse to go out exploring the ravines in winter.

Feeding Starving Cardinals

Winter has decided to remind us this season is supposed to be cold. I think highs in the forties are cold enough. Winter disagrees.

I bundle up to face the cold. Non hibernating wild creatures try, but their main defense is eating extra food. The starving cardinals have arrived at the bird feeder.

starving cardinals wait

Starving cardinals line up waiting for seeds to arrive, then wait their turn in the feeder after the blue jays have come and gone.

There are lots of birds eating at the bird feeder this winter. Mourning doves, titmice, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees and red breasted woodpeckers are the most numerous. Cardinals have been around the last few years, but not in great numbers.

This year is different. This year a flock of cardinals has moved into the area.

Our feeder isn’t fancy. It’s only a platform with a roof over it. The roof is new this year.

starving cardinal

Male cardinals are in their spring finery already making them a vivid red in a gray world. They begin marking out nesting territories in February.

The roof sets down around the platform and is not attached to it. Wind finds the roof is an airfoil. Strong winds lift the roof assembly off the feeder and drop it to the ground a few feet away.

I do tie the roof down, but baling twine wears out. So, every few years I need to repair or build a roof.

Our bird feed isn’t fancy either. Sunflower seeds, scratch feed and peanut butter go out every morning and get picked up every night.

Birds have cleaned off the grass seed, the giant ragweed seeds, the thistles, the chicory. Much of the fall seed crop never appeared due to drought. Lean times are adding to cold this winter.

downy woodpecker

This smallest woodpecker in the area is the Downy Woodpecker. They are common visitors to the bird feeder loving peanut butter and sunflower seeds.

Around dawn each morning I look out the kitchen window toward the bird feeder. As light seeps across the yard, I can see the starving cardinals lining up in the old apple tree.

The other birds are there too. Brilliant red feathers make cardinals easy to spot. They give the now dead tree a Christmas look adorning gray branches with red ornaments.

Later the seeds are out on the feeder. It is rush hour. Birds swoop in, eat, glide away. Some swoop in, grab a seed and fly off to eat in the peach tree.

Simple as it is, the bird feeder does well. It lets me watch the birds, both the regulars and the surprise visitors like rose breasted grosbeaks and towhees. It makes sure the starving cardinals and other birds don’t starve in spite of lean and cold times.