Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

My Photogenic Goats

I do try to put new pictures up in the My Goats Gallery every so often. Two things keep me from doing this very often. One is the time to get the pictures. The other is my photogenic goats who hate to have their pictures taken.

The goats have a schedule. They eat breakfast then go out to pasture. I normally try to take their pictures out in the pasture.

Agate thinks photogenic goats need close ups
Agate won’t listen. I tell her people want to see all of her. She wants her chin scratched, not her photograph taken.

Morning is not a good time. The light is great. The goats are off on the hills in the woods.

Trees give my photogenic goats great places to hide. And there is the ploy of ganging up.

The herd comes down from the hills in the afternoon. The light is more yellow. Shadows are darker. I must be on the south side of the goats with them facing east or west for a good picture.

goat herd leaving
When the picture taker is persistent, leave. So my herd takes off with the opinion I have to really get a move on if I want a picture. The ideal spot is in the middle so little more than ears are visible.

Afternoon is also when the goats start thinking about coming in for the night. My appearance is a good excuse to start off for the pasture gate.

I went out early the other day because the goats were down earlier than usual. They were scattered around the old cow barn. How many pictures could I get. My photogenic goats looked great.

photogenic goats are on the move
Lydia got left behind. I finally got a picture. She is doing her best to outrun me and nearly does. Now I need eighteen more pictures.

As soon as I got there, the herd bunched up and started for the pasture gate. I followed for a distance hoping for one or two pictures. No luck. I left.

The herd stopped. Every head turned to watch me go out a side gate. A short time later the herd spread out to graze again.

Another favorite ploy is to face away from me. All I see are rumps.

Tails are in for these photogenic Nubian goats
My herd is busy grazing. Pictures aren’t important. They don’t care if anyone else sees what they look like. One way to get rid of me is to turn tail and eat. At least they think so.

Agate and Pest come over to check the camera out. Photogenic goats or not, petting is much superior to having your picture taken.

I have one last recourse. This is highly unpopular with the goats. I tie them to the fence one by one and take a picture. since I’ve been trying to get pictures for the gallery for a couple of months now, I guess I will do this the next nice day.

Add some spice to the holidays with a copy of Capri Capers.

Milk Room Copperhead

It’s late fall. Snakes are supposed to be hidden away for the winter. The milk room copperhead didn’t get the memo.

Copperheads do live here. They like it down in a creek valley. We rarely see them as copperheads are shy snakes.

copperhead snake on road
Copperheads usually show up on the road. They like to bask in the sun or cross to the other side. Some years we see several of them. Other years we see none. Only one has acted aggressively in 26 years. Most are shy, retiring snakes anxious to vanish from sight.

Usually the goats come across the copperheads. One or another will come limping into the barn with a swollen leg.

The afflicted goat mopes around in obvious pain. I called the vet the first time a goat was bitten. He assured me the goat would recover in a day or two. All he could do was give a steroid shot to take the swelling down.

Partially reassured I waited. The swelling went down a little by the next day and the goat insisted on limping out with the herd. Most of the swelling was gone that evening. Complete recovery took another day.

Years ago a copperhead haunted the hen house. After a few weeks, it was rarely seen. On those occasions, it was fat and brilliantly colored.

Copperheads are pretty snakes from a safe distance. The light copper background with the irregular copper bands make them unmistakable.

The milk room copperhead first appeared a couple of weeks ago. I turned from the feed barrel and started walking toward the far milk stand when the two foot long snake sped across the floor and disappeared.

milk room copperhead looking around
This is one determined and cautious copperhead. I surprised it earlier and it withdrew. This time it stuck its head up and watched. I waited as long as I could as the light was fading outside leaving the milk room too dark from its single light for pictures. The snake was still waiting as I left. It was gone when I returned and has not been back.

Usually the six foot black snakes are the resident barn snakes. They reside under the barn floor. One definite reason to not have a raised floor in a barn is that the crawl space provides a home for numerous creatures, not all of them good neighbors.

Naively I assumed the copperhead was on its way to its winter headquarters. Snakes, from what I’ve read, have regular spots to spend the winters. The milk room copperhead didn’t get this memo either.

The snake slipped up from between the floor boards again. I’m hoping it hasn’t elected to nest among the hay bales for the winter.

Harriet learns to milk in Capri Capers. check out the sample pages.

Young Skunk Scares Chickens

Many animal spring babies are off on their own now. That includes a young skunk now staking out the barn area as home base.

In spite of their reputations, skunks are not really interested in attacking anyone. This young one is rather nervous.

I first came across this particular one on my way to milk one evening. It was after dark and my flashlight batteries were starting to dim. There was movement along the road.

The skunk stood motionless assessing the situation and blinded by the light. It stomped its front feet. This is not a good sign.

young skunk startled
The skunk didn’t seem to notice much around it. I finally got close enough to be noticed. The skunk backed up a step and lifted its tail. In a few seconds the tail came down and it resumed digging in the grass. If a skunk gets really alarmed, it raises the tail much higher, stands square and stomps the front feet. If the perceived threat stays, the skunk turns away and lets loose.

Skunks are common around the area. They move in for a time. They move on. Occasionally they discover I put milk down for the cats as I milk and come in to drink it. They have a different lap sound from the cats, more of a smack, smack, smack. I say something. They look up with a startled expression and depart hastily. One was a repeat offender and ignored me in a night or two. It left after the milk was gone.

That night I backed off. The skunk relaxed. I sidled by on the other side of the road.

chicken ignoring young skunk
After the chickens ran from the skunk, they settled down and gave it a wide berth as they ate grass and bugs. The skunk ignored the chickens.

The next afternoon I let the chickens out to forage for a couple of hours. They have adjusted to the short times out well. The foxes seem to be ignoring them.

The flood of chickens rolled out across the grass, came to a screeching halt and retreated. My pullets complained loudly to me about the invader in their section of grass.

The skunk was busy foraging. It feeds on worms and grubs it digs up. Armadillos may dig bigger holes, but skunks leave a lumpy path behind too. However, an armadillo races off once it spots you. A skunk dares you to do something.

young skunk digging for grubs
The stripes on the back of a skunk can be thin lines, short as on this skunk and up to covering the entire back making the skunk appear white. The skunk rustled through the grass, stopped and dug, ate whatever tasty morsel was uncovered and moved to begin again.

I moved in with the camera. The skunk looked up, arched its tail, seemed almost to shrug and went back to foraging.

The chickens gave it a wide berth that day. After a few days, they now ignore the young skunk as it ignores them.

Skunks appear in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Busy Fall Season

City people seem to have the idea that country people can take it easy fall and winter. All that changes here are the kinds of things being done. I have a busy fall season.

Killing frost left my garden wilted. I knew it was coming so bags of tomatoes, peppers, long beans and squash moved into the kitchen.

These bags await my attention. Some are already sorted. A few bags of peppers are now at someone else’s house. My pepper plants wanted to make sure I had a busy fall season.

The new fall routine is clearing the dead plants out. Then the beds are rebuilt with manure, cardboard and mulch. Garlic is planted. Plastic covers the shade house where cabbage, bok choi and winter radishes already grow.

Nubian buck High Reaches Silk's Augustus wishes for a busy fall season
Fall is breeding season for goats. Nubians will breed all year round, but prefer fall. Every August my buck Augustus begins to smell rank and ogle the girls. By September it’s hard to get him to eat his grain. He spends most of his time pacing the fence or standing on top of the gym watching for the herd to come back.

Dairy goats need attention every day. Fall is breeding season. My busy fall season includes getting some does bred while keeping my winter milkers away from Augustus. And at least one doe will have November kids.

The goat barn must be winterized. And the summer manure build up must be taken out to the garden. Two new lights are supposed to go in, one in the goat section and one in the chicken section.

My busy fall season wouldn’t be complete without a book to complete. “For Love of Goats” is progressing. The front cover is done. Three quarters of the illustrations are done. Sample pages should go up in another week with a release date in mid November.

"For Love of Goats" by Karen GoatKeeper
Watercolor is great for illustrations in my opinion. It takes practice and I’m getting a lot of it completing the sixty or so illustrations for this book. Professional illustrators deserve much more admiration for their work than they are given.

Yes, November. NaNo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m not ready. What will I write? The subconscious is working on this question.

By December I will be back to work on “The City Water Project” for release next March. It’s half done.

Maybe city people can relax over the fall and winter. My busy fall season will morph into an equally busy winter season.

Drawing Goat Illustrations

Do you remember the story of the little engine that could? “I think I can. I think I can.” Doing goat illustrations has had me telling this to myself for weeks now.

Picture book illustrations are so common readers seem to flip by them with scarcely a glance. I won’t do that anymore. Those illustrations are the result of hours and days of planning, sketching, correcting and doing.

My new goat book has a series of ten flash fiction pieces about a little goat in it. These needed illustrations. This was a new challenge.

goat illustrations of Alpines
A is so much fun for alliteration. And Alpines lend themselves for a fun story. The two Alpines were done by ink brush stroke.

I had been doing goat illustrations for the other single page, unrelated pieces in the book. Each letter has a short piece using that letter and an illustration. As long as this related to goats and the written piece, it worked.

The Little Goat was different. These ten written pieces were all related and about the same three goats: Ma and her twin doelings. As in a novel, characters do not change names and other traits from one chapter to the next. These three goats must look the same in all of the illustrations.

I spent days going over each piece and deciding on what the illustration would be, then drawing it. Every flaw in my drawing crept into these sketches. After several adjustments, each sketch was done.

one of Little Goat illustrations
Mother goats often seem to ignore their kids unless problems occur. The kids go through a phase when their ears itch. At that time the kid isn’t too steady on its feet and has a lot of trouble learning how to scratch an ear. At the same time the kids are ready to hop and run. This illustration is done with watercolor.

What color or colors would each of the three goats be? Even more important was how to mix the colors I wanted. For some reason watercolors have a limited set of colors and expect the artist or illustrator to mix these to get the desired color.

Ma was to be a red goat. I got out the red. Goats are more of a copper color than pure red so I added some brown. And got pink. For some reason almost any combination with red produces pink. Goats are not pink.

One kid was to be golden brown. This is when I discovered starting with orange worked much better than working with red or yellow.

last Little Goat illustration
Kids do a lot of sleeping. That seems to be when they grow. Star and Aster have had a long day out in the pastures with the herd. It’s night and time to sleep.

One kid was to be black. The hard part of that is getting details to show as black tends to merge into one black blob.

My goat illustrations are improving. I learned a lot doing the related series for the Little Goat.

Capri Capers” is another fun goat book already available.

Rescuing Goats

Rescuing goats is not a common activity for me. It can be crucial.

Most often this means kids are lost. They went to sleep and the herd had moved on without them. Or the herd crossed the creek and they were afraid of the water.

Louie needed rescuing regularly as he easily lost track of where the herd was. Being blind he couldn’t see the herd was only ten or twenty feet away. Of course no goat would answer him so one of us had to go out and rescue him.

blind goat listening for herd
Louie tried really hard to keep track of the herd. He listened for the sounds of the goats grazing ripping leaves or grass off. He followed the sound of the goats walking through the grass. But this had a limited range of about ten feet. After that he was out of touch and searching. He would first listen, then circle. If he couldn’t find the herd, he would start to panic and take off in the direction the herd might have gone. Panic would keep him from hearing his name called, even convince him he was being pursued. The best solution was to keep him in with Goat Town USA Gaius. They were best friends and rarely very far apart. Gaius always answered Louie and went back to get him any time he got lost.

We finally took to staying with the herd much of the time as Louie, for some reason, would take off up hill when he got frantic looking for the other goats. He could really cover some ground and was hard to catch up with. Being half panicked, he wouldn’t turn around or wait for his pursuer.

One half grown kid got stuck in a forked tree. Finding her was pure luck as she was Alpine and fairly quiet.

Rescuing goats is much easier with Nubians. They announce their situation loudly enough to be heard back at the house even from hills a quarter mile away.

That was the case recently. I was working around the barn making needed repairs. The nail supply was in the garage. A goat could be heard calling.

Rescuing goats list now includes Nubian doe Juliette's Lydia
High Reaches Juliette’s Lydia loves eating acorns. She is normally a quiet goat. When she got trapped, her big Nubian voice announced her problem to those working across the creek, by the barn, across the street and at the house.

Goats call for lots of reasons, most for communicating among themselves. Nubians like talking to each other. Except this goat had a worried tone and kept calling.

Following the calls took us out across the creek and up the first hill. A wind burst a few years ago knocked down a lot of trees. One was forked.

Lydia had stepped through between the forks. To understand what happened I need to describe my Ozark hill.

This hill has a fifty to sixty degree grade. It is covered two to six inches deep in loose gravel. Climbing it once a day would be great exercise.

trap waiting to make rescuing goats necessary
This fallen tree is a freak accident waiting to happen. The tree alone isn’t a problem. The goats can easily walk through between the branches. The gravel is the trap. Lydia stepped through and her feet slid down the hill. A chain saw eliminated this problem.

Evidently Lydia’s hooves slipped on the gravel and she fell on the lower trunk. It had no bark left and was slippery. She slid down closer to the fork.

Being a normal goat, Lydia tried to squeeze through. She slipped down to where the fork was too narrow for her to get through. She started calling for help.

It took two people to shove her up the trunk. The gravel made this difficult, but she got out. She took off to rejoin the herd without a backward glance.

Rescuing goats is done as a service to goats. It gains no thanks, only the satisfaction of saving a goat.

Writing a Goat Novel

One of the most commonly asked questions of an author is where they get their ideas. Even for a goat novel there is no easy answer except life.

The germ of my novels is a character I find interesting. This may be someone I see out somewhere or someone I knew sometime. As this character becomes more real, the questions change to what would happen if? What would this character do?

Dora the Alpine/Nubian goat from Dora's Story
Martha Cunningham is known for her horse paintings. I knew her when we both taught at Bunker High School. My original illustrator withdrew and I asked Martha for her help. She worked hard to get comfortable drawing Dora and the various situations found in the novel.

“Dora’s Story” began with Dora and a question of whether it was possible to write a gpat novel about the life of a goat in the spirit of “Black Beauty” and a horse. I have known a lot of goats, met quite a few goat owners and heard about other livestock owners.

A list of possible things that could happen to a goat started forming. Each thing brought in the type of owner who could trigger the event. The list got quite long.

Emily from the goat novel Dora's Story
In Part 2 of Dora’s Story Emily gets and names Dora to participate in a 4-H livestock project. She and Dora become fast friends. When her mother sells Dora, Emily is devastated and tries to find her.

The novel might have remained only a list until Emily appeared. Then the story had a focus: Emily and Dora were best friends, parted for some reason leading to a search and a final reunion. This goat novel would be easy to write.

I was so wrong.

Confidently I started writing. The first part was so easy. The second part started getting sticky. The fourth part fell into shambles. Perhaps this goat novel was never meant to be written.

Leonard from the goat novel Dora's Story
Leonard rescues Dora and they become fast friends in Part 4 of Dora’s Story. Leonard has had to give up his cattle and retirement is not where he wants to be. Dora and the other two goats provide Leonard with livestock and something interesting to do each day.

Except I knew the ending.

My list of story points became a time line. My goat shows became pages of classes, goats entered, goat owners, awards. The shambles got rewritten.

Shawn from the goat novel Dora's Story
Shawn, from Part 6 of Dora’s Story, is the baby of the family. Dora becomes his goat. The two set off to conquer the goat shows.

My goat novel “Dora’s Story” was written and went into rewrites and more rewrites. The timeline was off. More rewrites. More corrections.

My goat novel was like a movie in my head. I saw the goats, the people and wanted to have an illustration for each part as well as having a cover with Dora on it. Thanks to Martha Cunningham those illustrations became reality.

And “Dora’s Story” was written.

Read some pages from “Dora’s Story“.

Goat Perspectives Are Important

Work continues on my new goat book. At the moment most of it is on the illustrations. For these I need some goat perspectives.

There may be artists who can draw from memory. I’m not one of them. I’m not really an artist or even an illustrator. I need references.

My references of choice are photographs. These have several advantages chief among them is their permanence. The goats don’t move.

Nubian goat perspectives
Goat heads really show differences between the breeds. No goat owner should mistake the Roman nose and pendulous ears of a Nubian for an Alpine’s sharp upright ears and straight to dished face or a LaMancha’s tiny ears and straight face.

Over the many years I’ve raised goats, I’ve taken lots of photographs. They tend to be much the same views of the goats: left or right side, broadside. This would not only be monotonous, but not suitable for all of the stories, tongue twisters and other goat texts in the book.

Out comes the camera. Off I go stalking goats. And goats, my goats anyway, are notoriously camera shy.

I need pictures of goats in motion. They make sure to go too fast and blur the picture.

goat walking changes goat perspectives
I’m not sure how typical my Nubian buck Augustus’ walking stance is right now. He spends much of his time pacing the fence calling to does in heat. He is a fast walker. Notice how far back his ears are. Details are so important.

I need pictures of goats looking at me. They look the other way. Or they make some face like sticking their tongues out or exaggeratedly chewing their cud.

I need pictures from the front. They face the other way.

The last ploy is to disappear up into the hills and not come down until sunset. Cameras do need light to take pictures. And shadows are immense close to sunset. And colors are yellowed near sunset.

Yes, most of the illustrations will be Nubians. I raise Nubians and am most familiar with them.

standing Nubian buck
Does seem much better proportioned than mature bucks. My Nubian buck Augustus seems to have a head too small for his body. The torso is more squared off than the body of a doe. Such details are important in my sketches as some are of bucks and some of does.

While working on “Goat Games,” I took pictures, many more than I used in the book, of other breeds. And I did have Alpines in my herd for many years.

Once I have pictures of different goat perspectives, I can do the sketches. These outlines are in pencil and act as guides for the ink and watercolor. The outlines can be tweaked. That is where erasers come in handy.

My lack of experience shows when I add ink and watercolor. That is what computers are for: fixing my mistakes. Erase those ink blots!

Chicken Breeds Are Different

I grew up with Rhode Island Red chickens when they were still big and placid. Those, crazy Arcanas and white leghorns were the three breeds I knew. Surprise! There are lots of chicken breeds.

By the time I got my hands on a catalog of chicken breeds, I knew there were more than three. The range both of sizes and colors still amazed me.

chicken breeds include Buff Orpingtons
Buff Orpingtons are a great choice for anyone wanting pet chickens. They are calm, friendly and live up to seven years. They do get big. I like their big, brown eggs.

My flock normally runs around thirty birds with one or two roosters. The hens were all brown, usually Red Hampshires or Buff Orpingtons. These are nice chickens.

Curiosity ate at me. What about all those other chicken breeds? Why couldn’t I have some of them?

barred rock pullet
Plymouth or Barred Rocks grow into large hens that lay well. They have single combs. Dominiques have the same barred pattern, but have rose combs. They both are friendly chickens.

My primary goals then were eggs and meat. My chick orders were straight run so I got some pullets for eggs and roosters for meat. That kept me in the dual purpose pages.

Habit keeps me wanting brown eggs. That narrowed the breeds available a little. Price narrowed it more.

I compromised. Half my chick order was a regular breed. Half was something different. My flock soon included Black Austrolorps, standard Cochins, Barred Rocks, Silver and Gold Wyandottes and crazy Arcanas.

standard size Cochin hen
Usually Cochins are seen as bantams. I don’t have a separate place to keep bantams and was delighted to find these fluffy, feather bootie chickens come in standard too. They do get big and suffer in very hot weather. This old hen takes cheese bits and horseflies out of my fingers.

Every breed is different. Cochins are sweethearts. They are big fluffy feather balls on two little feather balls. When I pick one up, it’s mostly feathers. They are calm and friendly.

Black Austrolorps melt into the background. They are a nice chicken and seem to have personalities. The other chickens overwhelm them.

Barred Rocks get into everything. I can lay out a banquet in front of them and they still go checking out other places in case there is something better.

chicken breeds include Speckled Sussex
Speckled Sussex seem in constant motion. They tumble out the house door first every morning. They race out of the gate for grass before the other chickens know the gate is open. They are a smaller chicken.

This year I tried out Speckled Sussex. They seem to be a smaller chicken than the others. These pullets hustle. Food is what they love and what they look for. ‘If something looks edible, eat it’ seems to be their motto.

Those crazy Arcanas? Yes, I have several in my flock. The blue and green eggs are interesting. Unlike the other chicken breeds, these never seem to tame down. Even handling them as chicks makes no difference.

chicken breeds include Arcanas
Arcanas and Easter Eggers are known for laying blue and green eggs. Black Arcanas lay deep blue eggs. They are smaller hens, love chasing bugs and panic easily.

Next spring? My Buff Orpingtons and standard Cochins are down to one old hen each. Maybe I’ll try a different color of each.

Fall Garden Finally Planted

One nice thing about the Ozarks is the long growing season. It allows for a fall garden to usher in cold weather.

August was very wet this year. Tomatoes split. Peppers drooped unhappily. And fall planting was delayed.

Crops for the fall like cooler weather so it seems strange to plant them during a hot month. After the middle of August there is time for the seeds to enjoy warm weather for germination. September brings cooler growing weather.

tomato plants on shade house
Wet weather and humidity have spread blight early over the tomato plants. Still the plants are covered with ripening tomatoes. The plants sprawl naturally. I use baling twine to hold them onto the panels. The tomatoes can be picked from either side.

Cabbage is a popular fall crop. Transplants are available for it, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. I grow the cabbage and skip the others. They take too much room for too little in produce.

Instead I opt for turnips, rutabaga, beets, lettuces, spinach, winter radishes and a variety of greens. The smaller vegetables go into the shade house. The turnips and rutabaga get far too large for there and are frost resistant so they go out in a garden bed.

The week the seeds should have been planted brought over seven inches of rain. My garden does have good drainage, but that is pushing it.

The seeds finally made it in as another storm came in. It was late in the afternoon. Thunder sounded to the southeast, a definite warning of rain to come.

Oriental radishes for fall garden
Regular radishes are a fast spring crop. Fall is the time to plant Oriental winter radishes. There are several kinds available. All prefer cool to cold weather and get big. They do not like frost, but can be covered.

I was half done. The goats needed to come in. I tried to speed up.

Only one long row was left. The first scattered drops skittered across my back. More and louder thunder dared me to finish.

The last seeds went in as the first big drops fell. I wouldn’t have to water any of these seeds in.

Augustus was racing into his pen as I arrived to swing his door closed. The herd was huddled under the persimmon and hackberry trees as I swung the gate open.

The goats fled for the barn. I walked. I was already soaked. But the fall garden was planted.

Playing With Words Leads To Book

English has thousands of words from many languages. Other languages can have plays on words, but they can’t rival English for playing with words.

Standing in the cold watching the does eat during milking as most of them are dry is boring. Playing with words occupies the mind and lets the goats get away with little tricks which they don’t mind.

goat wether
Every goat person knows about bucks, does and kids. They should know about wethers too. I’ve used wethers for harness and meat. They make good goat pets. They don’t look or act like a buck, yet are more masculine than a doe.

Dandy wether debates whether or not a wether should go out in rainy weather.

Homonyms are fun. English has lots of them.

Alpines align alertly.

playing with words begins with A for Alpine
A has so many words to use for alliteration on the topic of Alpines. Gem shows many Alpine characteristics to help with the illustration.

Alliteration and tongue twisters are old favorites. The challenge was to come up with one for each letter of the alphabet.

Some were easy. C is for caprine. D is for doe. G is for goat. T is for Toggenberg.

Others were real challenges. Yet something worked for all the letters except one. No, it’s not Z or Q or J. I am missing R.

Now goats are ruminants and do have rumens, but these don’t seem to lend themselves to anything light-hearted using alliteration or homonyms or even tongue twisters. Perhaps there is some other topic? I need some ideas.

Oberhasli does are for O with ornery and obedient
O is for Oberhasli with some obedient manners masking some ornery intentions.

Playing with words gave me 26 pages doubled when illustrations are added. This seemed awfully short so I added some flash fiction about a kid.

The illustrations are another challenge. I’m working on the sketches. It’s tempting to make them rich, elaborate affairs. I’m not that good.

Tongue twisters and alliterative passages are simple word plays. The illustrations should match. They will be ink brush stroke done mostly in black ink but some color. After all, goats are in color.

goat kids get into all kinds of mischief giving fodder for playing with words
Goat kids figure in many of the letters including I, K and Z. And two kids are the subject of a series of ten flash fiction pieces. This may be because kids are so cute, curious and ornery.

I still think of this little book as The Goat Alphabet Book, but it doesn’t really fit anymore. Buried somewhere in this little book is a title. I haven’t found it yet.

And to think that this all started because English has so many words with so many beautiful sounds and playing with words can be such fun.

Special Needs Goats

One of the advantages of keeping goats more as a hobby than as a business is being able to keep special needs goats from time to time. Such kids are rare.

Most often these special kids are just small. They need bottle feeding and extra care. Most of those that survive will grow up to be small, but normal adults. Juliette is as big as my other goats.

Two special needs goats I remember here were born blind. The first was Louie.

blind goat is one of special needs goats
The herd crossed the bridge so Louie crossed the bridge. The first time he turned before getting to the end and fell in the creek. As far as I know that was the only time. Louie wasn’t going to let a little thing like being blind stop him.

Silk was close to due, but didn’t look that close. She went out that morning, but didn’t come in. Intense searching didn’t find her.

Early the next morning I went out again. This time Silk turned up with a single doe kid. I had expected twins and backtracked without finding a second kid.

My friend had started at the other end of the hill. He found a little buck kid. The kid seemed normal, but Silk rejected him. Bottle baby.

blind goat listening for herd
A herd of Nubians keeps track of each other with numerous clues. One is by sound. Another is smell. Sight is an important one. Louie could hear, but couldn’t see. When Louie got more than five feet away from the herd, he was lost. His first reaction was to lift his head up high to listen and smell. If he couldn’t find the herd, he next started to circle and call. His ringing calls would echo back from the trees and confuse him sometimes sending him running off up a hill looking for the other goats. Calling him once he started this had no effect as he had panicked. He had to be caught and calmed down. Then he would follow back to the herd.

In the house we noticed his eyes didn’t look right. Examination showed the corneas to be badly scarred and white.

Newborns have a short time in which they learn to use their eyes. If their eyes are covered during that time, the animal will never see well even if the eyes are normal. This is true not only of goats, but people, cats, dogs and others as well.

Louie’s eyes were not usable at that special time. They later cleared a little, but he could never see.

Louie learned to find his way around the barn. He followed the herd out to pasture for a time. He got his name because he would get separated and we could hear him trumpeting his distress at the house and go out to rescue him.

Louie and Gaius were best friends for several years until Louie got urinary stones and died.

another of my special needs goats was blind, deaf Martha
Even as a very young Nubian kid Martha was adventurous. Being blind and deaf was the way it was for her. She explored everywhere. She had no playmates so she found her own ways to play. The ramp on the goat gym was a favorite. She did get knocked off a time or two, but never fell off on her own. She climbed to the top and circled the platform then careened down the ramp bucking and kicking up her heels. Once down she turned around and went up again.

My other special needs kid was Martha. She had several disabilities being born blind and mostly deaf. She didn’t let it slow her down much. She couldn’t go out to pasture, so she learned to play on the goat gym by herself. She amused herself for long periods of time going up and down the ramp.

Martha was my shadow as I worked around the workshop and garden. Evidently she had no sense of taste either and I didn’t watch closely enough. She got into some poisonous plants when only a few months old.

blind, deaf Nubian kid playing
Every picture of my blind, deaf Nubian kid Martha coming down the gym ramp is blurred. She raced down that ramp. At first I cringed as she could fall off the edges, but she never did.

Do I regret keeping these special needs goats? No. They did have disabilities, but were able to have good lives during the time they had.

Remembrances of these and other goat adventures will be part of the new goat book. For now, check out Capri Capers.

Pepper Container Bounty

Months have gone by. Those small pepper and tomato plants have grown. Now they are big and the container bounty is ripening.

As I filled the containers, they looked so large. It took a lot of dirt to fill one. The plants were so small. So four pepper plants went into each one.

Macedonian Dolga pepper in container
The Macedonian sweet pepper Dolga is not a heavy producer for me. It is a late pepper as well. I keep growing it as the peppers are large and taste great. My friend says they are the best for grilling. The plants do well in a container.

The surrounding wire is three feet tall. Each circle is staked against the wind that never came this year. Instead the plants are taller than the wire and pushing against it.

One tomato plant fills one container. When I walk out to milk or start backing out of the driveway, I see it. Often the leaves are just barely starting to hang in that “give me water” manner. I stop and oblige even though I’m positive I just watered it the day before. This too is container bounty as it sags under numerous clusters of tomatoes. Maybe all those tomatoes make the plant need more water.

Abraham Lincoln tomatoes show container bounty
This Abraham Lincoln tomato plant is doing well in a container. It needs watering every day or so. It is a heavy producer of red tomatoes with a rich, sweet tomato taste.

Even four pepper plants don’t need as much water as the tomato plant. The newspaper and mulch keep the thirsty weeds from moving in. The rain comes by to help and the mulch holds the moisture in.

Like the garden peppers and tomatoes, the container fruit takes its time ripening. This waiting drives me mad.

One consolation is the lack of tomato and pepper attackers around the house. The container bounty has no bites, is not torn down and tossed in the dirt.

The garden plants aren’t so lucky. The woodchuck still eludes capture, still digs up plants and mulch. Raccoons sample the tomatoes, find they are too green to be palatable and toss them aside. The young raccoons are captured and go elsewhere. The adults have learned to open the trap and escape.

Electric fence is my next option, but requires a pathway cleared through tall grass and other weeds. It is slow going in the heat.

Macedonian pepper Aivar provides container bounty
A friend raises a variety of Macedonian sweet peppers. This Aivar is new to me this year. I am impressed. It does very well in a container and is a heavy producer. The other pepper in the pot is my ‘Prize’ pepper, another Macedonian sweet pepper I’ve grown for years as it is early, a heavy producer and tastes great.

In the meantime I admire the container bounty around the house. A single tomato ripened to be savored at dinner. Another has blushed. Three pepper plants have ripened fruit.

A freezer full of summer’s container bounty may yet happen.

Making Quill Pens

Why are quill pens so interesting? A regular pen is much easier to use. Perhaps making quill pens is part of the appeal.

Then again this is fun to do as part of colonial history. All of our country’s founding documents were written with quill pens. They look so elegant in the portraits.

The first requirement for making quill pens are the quills. These are feathers, but not just any feathers. Birds are covered with feathers of many kinds doing different things for the bird. A quill is a large wing feather.

choosing a quill for a pen
These two quills have the large shaft needed. One is from the left wing and the other from the right wing so they curve in opposite directions.

Birds have wings on both sides. The quills on one side curve to the left and on the other side to the right. Most people are right handed so the left curve was preferable as it curved away from the hand.

Another requirement was size. Bigger quills held more ink and wrote better. Goose quills were the most common as geese were raised for feathers and food. The best ones came from swans.

Making quill pens involves trimming the quill point
This was an older quill so the shaft was very hard. It tried to shatter, but a sharp knife did shave it down into a rounded point.

According to the 1912 Encyclopedia Britannica making quill pens was quite an industry. The quills were obtained and heated to a specific temperature. There was organic matter inside the quills and the heat made it easy to remove this. Then the points were cut at various angles depending on how the quill was to be used.

For “The City Water Project” activity making quill pens, the special heating and cutting are dispensed with. The quill is found, cleaned off and the end shaved or cut at some angle. Food coloring can be used in place of ink, although real ink is much better as it is thicker.

I’ve used vulture wing feathers and wild turkey feathers I’ve found on the hills or in the pastures. Both work well. This time a friend gave me a peacock feather to try. It worked well too. The main thing is to have a large quill.

Making quill pens is tested by writing with one
The quill pen was easy to write with. The line was a little uneven. It did leave a small blot. I didn’t dip it very far into the ink so I couldn’t write much each time.

This time too I had real ink. It worked very well even with the crude point I managed to cut. Making quill pens is a fun activity, but I prefer my ball point pens, an invention that appeared for sale in the late 1950’s.

Doing Water Investigations

Years ago I posted a science experiment on my website every week. One summer these were a series of water investigations.

“The City Water Project” was in its planning stages. The water investigations were being considered for inclusion in the book. They have been weeded down to ten investigations and six activities.

size of a water droplet
Are all water droplets the same? How big is one? Measuring one is a water investigation in “The City Water Project.”

While teaching I came up with an investigation format and still follow it. There is a question, a materials list, step-by-step procedure, questions and tables to record observations leading to analysis and conclusion questions. Each of the ten water investigations has been rewritten in this format.

Writing out an investigation doesn’t mean it will work. It should work. It might not. That means using the written investigation to do the experiment.

Water is easily spilled. Besides, it’s summer. I set up a table outside to use for doing the experiments.

volume of water investigations
If you push the plunger, what will happen? This is one of the water investigations in “The City Water Project.”

A few of the experiments need to be done outside as they splash water around. I thought all of them should and could be done outside.

There are some problems outside. Rain is one. Wind is another. Insects come by to check the table out. Already one of the Activities will have a recommendation to do it inside.

This is a fun challenge. Believe it or not, you can boil water inside a paper pot. I’ve done it several times using a candle to heat the paper pot.

This time I failed. The water did get hot enough to make little bubbles on the bottom. But the water didn’t boil.

One density experiment of the water investigations
What is density? How does water density determine if this rubber ball will float or not? This is another water investigation in “The City Water Project.”

Why not? A slight breeze kept blowing the flame and heat away from the pan.

Another of the water investigations uses paper towels. The breeze threatened to blow the paper strips away. The investigation did get done.

There are a few more investigations and activities to do yet. One will definitely get done in the house as it requires using a stove. One really works better with two people or more as shooting off water rockets is much more fun and easier that way.

Doing them outside in the summer is mostly the way to go. “The City Water Project” is scheduled for release next March just in time for next summer.

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.