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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Yes, most of the illustrations will be Nubians. I raise Nubians and am most familiar with them.
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!
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Next spring? My Buff Orpingtons and
standard Cochins are down to one old hen each. Maybe I’ll try a different color
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dandy wether debates whether or not
a wether should go out in rainy weather.
Homonyms are fun. English has lots
Alpines align alertly.
Alliteration and tongue twisters are
old favorites. The challenge was to come up with one for each letter of the
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Two special needs goats I remember here were born blind. The first was Louie.
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.
In the house we noticed his eyes
didn’t look right. Examination showed the corneas to be badly scarred and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Like the garden peppers and
tomatoes, the container fruit takes its time ripening. This waiting drives me
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.
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.
Why are quill pens so interesting? A
regular pen is much easier to use. Perhaps making quill pens is part of the
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Birds and other creatures like the
foxes eat berries too. Luckily there are enough berries for all of us.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Planting two different varieties of
peppers next to each other isn’t wise. They cross. This is why I went to pepper
My favorite peppers were the colored
bells. Unlike green peppers, they are not bitter. The different colors have
slightly different tastes. And they are pretty.
Then a friend talked me into trying
a Macedonian pepper. This is another sweet pepper (I don’t grow hot peppers.).
It is a long horn shape turning from green to lime green to yellow green to
rose red. It is delicious.
Two more Macedonian peppers have
joined my line up. I still grow the colored bells as I like them too. I needed
to have a place to grow the new pepper away from the garden where the bell
peppers grow. Containers were the answer.
There are several considerations for pepper container gardening.
Peppers like very warm and sunny
places. Here in the Ozarks all day sun is not necessary, but half the day is
Choosing the location is vital for
pepper container gardening as, once the containers are filled, moving them is
As I have three varieties of peppers to consider, I need three locations separate enough to discourage cross pollination. In front of the house, on the sunny side of the house and behind the house work for me. All get shade part of the day, but sun most of the day during the summer.
Since I grow four plants in each
container, I need a big container. Bigger containers don’t heat up in the sun
as much preventing the roots from cooking.
My containers are the empty plastic
tubs sold filled with cow licks. My feed store buys them back empty from
cattlemen and resells them to gardeners like me. The owner also uses a line of
them to grow left over transplants for himself and customers who want a quick
snack as they go into the store.
Drilling five or six half inch holes
in the bottom provides drainage.
Drainage is important. Putting a
couple of half size cement blocks or a few bricks under the container helps.
Next the pepper container needs
gravel. A larger piece goes over each hole. Four to six inches of inch size
gravel goes in on top. This will, in a few years, clog with dirt and need
Soil comes next. I mix mine. My
mixture has one part creek sand, one part composted goat manure and two parts
dirt in it. The amounts are not exact. Part of the mix is removed and replaced
each year with more compost.
Leave three or four inches clear at the top to hold water in the container.
I space four plants around the
container three or four inches from the edge. It’s a good idea to have a stout
pole in the center to tie the plants to.
The Ozarks can be a windy place. I
have used circles of fence wire, but this needs anchoring too.
Pepper container gardening is
different from garden based pepper growing. I do mulch my containers to help
control weeds, hold in moisture and keep the soil cooler. The containers need
watering every other if not every day.
With a little planning pepper
container gardening can yield enough peppers to spice up every meal and put
plenty in the freezer.
Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower
transplants show up the first of April at several places around town. Yet
growing cabbage in the Ozarks is a dicey affair at best.
Cole crops like cool weather.
Seventies is as warm as they like to be. Eighties is a disaster in the making.
There are several problems with cole crops in hot weather. First and foremost is the bitter taste. All cole crops seem to have a bit of bitter taste to them. Hot weather multiplies this to inedible.
A second problem is mostly a cabbage
problem. The heads rot. A series of cool days will encourage the plants to form
heads. One day of eighty degree weather might bleach the top leaf. A second day
starts the inside of the head to wilt down leaving a pile of stinky ooze the
Broccoli, cauliflower, pak choi
promptly send up flower stalks. They flower almost overnight turning scraggy
and dying a few days later.
A friend wants cabbage in the spring. I get the varieties with the shortest maturity dates, put them in and hope for the best.
Cabbage leaves are edible too.
This year has not decided what to do
yet. Through April the temperatures dithered from days in the sixties to days
in the seventies tossing in a couple of eighties.
Growing cabbage under these conditions is not ideal. My plants are heavily mulched to keep the ground cool. Since it keeps raining an inch or two a week, I’m hoping the mulch isn’t too wet.
Typically spring in the Ozarks is
short. We’ve had the usual amount, even a bit more. Any day could turn into
For now my growing cabbage is happy
and starting to think about making heads. I watch, wait and hope.
In the meantime the tomato and
pepper seedlings are doing well. They prefer eighty degree days, but tolerate
sixties and seventies once they’ve germinated.
April has pros and cons for raising chicks. A big pro is having the pullets start laying in the fall and continuing through the winter. A big con is the weather.
This year my chicks were to arrive
on a Wednesday. It was a nice warm spring day. Perfect for settling new chicks
The chicks were delayed. The weather turned cold. They arrived huddled in the box trying to keep warm. Their new quarters weren’t warm enough. Keeping them warm is critical to raising chicks.
Changing to a larger light bulb
solved the warmth problem. I do use a heat lamp so the heat is directed
downward. I do not use a heat bulb. Instead I have an array of wattages from 60
to 100 to 150.
When cold weather moves in, the
largest bulb goes in. When the temperatures go up, the size of the bulb can go
down. The chick house is remodeled against predators, but temperature
fluctuations move in.
It’s hard to keep all the chicks
together for the first day or two. So I move an old wire cage into the chick
house. This has three advantages.
First is keeping the chicks together and under the light. Surrounding the cage with cardboard contains the heat when temperatures really drop. Draping blankets over it will keep chicks warm through frosts.
Second is giving an extra protection
from black snakes. I have learned that these creatures can fit into crevices I
don’t even see.
Third is ease of cleaning. I put down layers of newspaper in three sheet groups. Each day I can roll up a layer leaving the chicks with a clean floor with a minimum of trauma for them. clean quarters is important for raising chicks.
This year the temperatures decided to soar when the chicks were a few days old. The cage was getting cramped and couldn’t be kept cool enough. So the chicks moved out into the chick house proper.
The chicks are delighted with all
the room. I haven’t changed to a smaller bulb as cooler weather is coming in.
Instead the top of the double door and a window are open. Small bugs fly in to
amuse the chicks.
This may be a makeshift arrangement,
but it works for me and the chicks. And that is all that matters.