September 2, 2015

Dan's Huntin' Partner

Valentine aka "Meowy"

This has been a prolific year for squirrels. And with pecan season at hand, the pecan trees are loaded with them - both pecans and squirrels. It's actually hazardous to walk to the goat shed because the squirrels drop so many bitten or half-eaten pecans that they can hit you in the head. Or maybe they're throwing them at us. I swear I can hear a diabolical squirrely laugh when those pecans fall.

Most of our cats have figured out that squirrels are fast and hard to catch. All except Meowy. She's on auto-hunt 24/7 and she's fast too. Plus she wants to catch one sooo badly.

Tracking a squirrel

One day Dan said that if we didn't do something about all these squirrels we'd have no pecan harvest. So he got out his .22 and bagged a couple. Well sir, Meowy figured out real quick that with Dan's help, she could get some squirrels! They'd fall from the tree and she was on them. In fact, that was the only way Dan could find them when they fell in the tall grasses and brush.

The next day, when he got out his .22 again, Meowy charged to the pecan trees and waited for him. Now when she sees squirrels, she runs up to Dan and begs him to go hunting.

Scanning for squirrels

The only problem is that she doesn't retrieve them. Instead, she grabs them and runs in opposite direction. But since he knows where she is he can find them. He's offered the heart and liver as reward, but she'd rather go chase down another one.

So our freezer is getting loaded with pecan-fattened squirrels, and Meowy is one very happy cat.

August 30, 2015

Giving Up On Asparagus

I planted our asparagus in spring of 2011. We got our first sampling the following spring, It was just a handful, just a taste of I hoped much asparagus to come. It takes several years to establish itself, so pickings must be gentle in the beginning. Then the wire grass set it. Spring of 2013 saw me transplanting my precious asparagus roots, in hopes of saving them from being choked out by that wire grass. Except for an occasional stalk or two, we've had no asparagus harvest since then. Until recently, the asparagus beds looked like this

The only consolation is that I've been able to sickle
mow this wire grass filled bed a couple of times for hay.

These were once permanent beds which have been overtaken by wire grass aka devil grass (Cynodon dactylon, an uncultivated bermuda). Long time readers will likely remember what I've done to battle this stuff: hand weeding, tilling, heavy mulch, cardboard, plastic solarization, landscape cloth with wood chip mulch, and more recently, pigs. The only thing I haven't tried is Round-up, which I understand is only a temporary solution, like all the others.

Wiregrass growing through a thick straw mulch in the green beans patch.

Last fall wire grass had taken over my permanent beds so densely that I couldn't plant a fall garden because I couldn't get to the soil. Talk about discouraged. That's when we sent in the pigs and goats and tilled once again. No, tilling is not the answer, but at least I can rake out enough of the wiregrass to plant something.

I have learned some things in my war against wire grass. One is, don't expect to win. Just aim to get a harvest. Another is that shade deters it. I'm not talking about shade from mulch; it just grows right on up through mulch. I'm talking about shade like this

Volunteer marigolds

or this

Volunteer 4 o'clocks

In the beds where I have a tall, dense growth of something like flowers or other plants, the wire grass is considerably (albeit temporarily) abated. It's definitely a sun lover.

The one drawback to my companion group planting is the different planting times and growing rates of the various companions in the group. Some things will be tall enough to mulch while others are barely breaking the ground. That delays mulching and gives unwanted weeds a foothold. The solution would seem to be to have everything about the same size when the bed is planted (or shortly thereafter) to get an earlier layer of mulch down. In Scott and Helen Nearing's The Good Life, I read how they kept their greenhouse so full of plants that anytime there was a vacant spot in the garden they had something at the ready to plant there. I can't help but think that a greenhouse is an answer for me.

Of course, a greenhouse has been on the master plan for a long time, but like everything else must wait until there is time and money to build. We've got an idea for a new location for one, so I should really update the master plan one of these days.

Even so, that won't help much with perennials like asparagus. So after getting only one side dish from it in four years, I'm calling it quits. I'm willing to work for our food, but when a thing takes time away from everything else, to me it isn't worth it. It's better to stick with the things that grow well in our garden, and asparagus isn't it.

August 27, 2015

A Good Trade

At least I think it was a good trade. I traded one of these

American Guinea Hog piglet

for six of these -

Mucovey ducks

one drake and five ducks.

I honestly never thought we'd have ducks. We figured we might get some if we ever got a pond, but without that it didn't seem like we'd be able to keep ducks happy. And a pond isn't on the horizon at present. When I learned that Muscovies do not need water, are good foragers, quiet, and eat things like flies and black widow spiders, I gave the offer of trading some for one of Polly's piglets some serious consideration.

They've been shy and hard to photograph.

From what I read this breed is not considered a water bird but a tree bird. That they fly was a sticking point, considering what happened with our guinea fowl. We do not want any more birds that wander the neighborhood! But the gal who traded them told me that hers mostly stayed on the ground, so we agreed on the trade.

Muscovies are a South American breed, said to be the only duck not descended from mallards. They are a meat duck, but are apparently quite prolific and lay good tasting eggs. Their meat is not greasy, but fine textured and considered more like top quality veal. They do not quack, rather, the males hiss and the females trill. So far ours have been shy and hard to get pictures of.

We put them in the chicken coop, although the chickens don't seem thrilled with the arrangement. Under the circumstances it was the quickest thing to do, and we'll just have to see how adjustments work out.

August 24, 2015

What's One More Cat?

In my last Around the Homestead post, I mentioned that we got another cat. Her name is Valentine and this is her story.

We never planned to have four cats.

We became acquainted with Valentine after she became a birthday present for my daughter-in-law. Valentine was just a wee bit of a kitten then, very cute and very sweet. Like all kittens she was a bundle of energy. That might have been okay if she had outgrown it and settled down.

A no-nonsense cat

She was quite the tear-em-up cat, which is not a good combination in a small house with two preschoolers who are still learning how to be gentle with pets. My suggestion was to start letting her go outside to work off that energy. Unfortunately, my son's homeowners' association doesn't allow outdoor pets. One day, in a peak moment of frustration after the littlest granddaughter had been scratched, he decided they'd have to get rid of Valentine. My soft-hearted Dan (a reformed cat-hater, by the way) thought about this for awhile, and then finally said to me, "What's one more cat?" So Valentine came to live with us.

She talks so much that Dan has nicknamed her "Meowy"

Our concern, of course, was how well our existing cats-in-residence would take it. We installed Valentine in the back of my studio, which was (and still is) in disarray due to construction. Of course, Valentine was scared and hid behind a pile of boxes.

The other cats weren't too pleased with the intruder. They would go stand in the doorway and sniff the room, until Sam decided he was going to do something about it.

Sam has made a good farm cat.

Sam marched into the room and within seconds the fireworks began. I have never heard such hissing, growling, screaming, caterwauling, and commotion! Boxes tumbled everywhere and within seconds Sam shot out of the room like a firecracker. That little cat had whooped his tail! Needless to say, the other two wouldn't go anywhere near that room after that.

Things got better once Valentine was allowed outside, and she and Sam finally became friends. He's a easy-going cat, and one day they got into a non-threatening game of chase. She's loved him ever since.

Sam is now Valentine's favorite.

Next, she set about trying to win over Riley.

Riley the Top Cat

Riley has been here the longest and is the alpha cat. With humans he is an amazingly mellow fellow. With the other cats, he's a tyrant. He's biggest and heaviest, so his opinions rule. About the only other cat he tolerates is Sam, but even that has limits. His acceptance of Valentine basically amounts to simply ignoring her.

Valentine and Riley now get along somewhat.

She became increasingly bold around him, but like the other cats, has learned not to trust him entirely. He can be tolerant if he's in the mood, but he can turn on a dime.

And Katy?

Katy the hold-out

Valentine and Katy absolutely refuse to get along. Neither appears to like the other and neither will budge on the issue. They take great delight in stalking and ambushing one another, which ought to be an enjoyable kitty game! However, the ambushee never fails to get mad about it, which results in a lot of hissing, claw swatting, and screaming at one another. This is especially annoying when both are in the house and it's the middle of the night.

An excellent farm cat.

All things considered, Valentine is an excellent farm cat. She loves being outdoors, loves the other critters, is always on duty, and catches mice. Besides refusing to get along with Katy, her only other fault is that she thinks it great sport to occasionally chase the chickens. We hope that eventually she'll get bored with that.

So that is how we became a four cat household. She's our littlest cat with the most spunk; the stuff of many kitty tales to come.

August 22, 2015

Tomatoes at Last

I planted late, but it was worth the wait.

Toasted homegrown tomato and homegrown,
homemade goat cheese sandwich on homemade bread.

Lunch doesn't get any better than this.