Friday, August 29, 2014

fumbling friday


I've got a tiny new laptop and I'm trying to find my way through a new Operating System, a touchscreen that makes things appear and disappear when I swear I did not touch anything, and the mixed blessing of adding familiar software but not having any of my preferences (such as toolbar arrangements and fonts) come along with it. Then there's the disconcerting way my open source office software (LibreOffice, which I love) is crashing every time I open a document. Every. Time.


Look! It's the Mystery Bugs!

Also, going from a 15" to an 11" monitor has drawbacks. Some of it is a simple trade-off, such as the aggravation of miniature (and therefore unreadable) drop-down menus versus the comfort factor of a lightweight laptop.


I'm certainly enjoying the light weight, so maybe it's worth keeping a pair of embiggening glasses at hand, just to reduce the amount of time spent randomly selecting things from a drop-down menu I cannot read? But some issues are proving more difficult to work around. Some applications - for example, my photo-editing software - have a disorienting, wrong-end-of-the-telescope quality that may not be easily overcome. Reviewing images to transfer from my camera has become quite a challenge.

Is that a picture of Piper?
Or a piece of oak bark?
Or one of the chickens?
Oh, I think it's kale!

Oops, too late...the photograph has disappeared from the screen,
replaced by that doggone giant clock again.
And I swear, I did not touch anything!!!

It's early days, so it's reasonable to assume that many hours of poking around and modification will be necessary. But I can only do so much of that at one time before I start questioning the application, the computer, my sanity and, by the way, why haven't I heard anything from the goats in the past two hours? Even Campion the Champion is suspiciously - not to say ominously - silent. Maybe I'd better just put the tiny laptop away and stroll out to the paddocks to see what they are up to.

And then maybe Piper and I will go for a little walk in the woods.


 I hope you are having a lovely Friday, as practice for having a lovely weekend.

And I hope you can read this, because to me, right now, the text I'm typing looks like tiny little ants have walked through ink and are tap-dancing across my itty-bitty screen.

Happy Weekend!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

bits and pieces

Remember #DrawingAugust?
I'm sorry to say I haven't managed a daily sketch.
But I've drawn or painted something most days,
and I've been having fun!
Would you like to see one?


Now, in (less fun) tech news:

My laptop has been abruptly folding its tent on a daily basis for some weeks now. Maybe even months; I'm in a Timewarp of Denial about it because I did not expect to replace this laptop so soon.

I haven't posted more goat videos despite the apparent appeal to my non-goatherding readers because even hinting at loading a video of any kind makes the screen go black and the hard drive produce the computer-equivalent sound of water being sucked down a drain. inspiring YouTube recipes, no late-night-can't-sleep Netflix, no delightful videos on other blogs. And it's not just videos; but apart from videos, the implosions seem random. Repair efforts have been futile. With fingers crossed, I've been recovering my most frequently accessed files (like my cashmere records, for instance) several times weekly. It's been...interesting.

Last weekend (the tax-free weekend in MA) I finally forced myself to make a decision. On Sunday night I bought a little laptop online, in part because I would be able to pick it up at the retail location the very next morning, while doing monthly errands in the same town. Huzzah!

Early the next morning, however, I got a text informing me that the laptop was, um, actually, not in stock as, erm, promised a few hours earlier. But it would be shipped to the retail location within 3 to 6 days at no additional cost!! (As if that was doing me a favor.) And could I please confirm the purchase so the shipping process could begin?

Well, disappointing, but no point in getting upset. I called the store to confirm, and asked that it be shipped directly to me. Was told, no, this was not possible, because I had asked to pick it up at the store.

Yes, I said, because I had been told I could pick it up the very next morning. If I had expected to wait for shipping, I would have had it sent to my house. Of course.

Can't be done.
Even though it has not yet been scheduled to ship?

Well, that makes zero sense to me.
As usual, Dara, we are in total agreement.

A week later, the package is on a truck somewhere in Massachusetts, so that's progress. And not a moment too soon, because today my laptop is making a Constant Noise. Sounds like someone using an electric hedge trimmer some distance away. It's a bit alarming. I spent two hours this morning backing up files and images on an external hard drive.

I mention all this in case there is a Total Irretrievable Meltdown before the new laptop is here and loaded and running. (The fact that the laptop folded once while I was writing this little post seems rather ominous.) So...if I don't post here or comment on your blogs for a week, it will probably mean I am temporarily between devices and incommunicado.

Don't you hate it when that happens?

Oh well. I'll catch up!
And to close on a cheery note, here are a couple of snaps I took in the gardens this morning:

The edge of this squash blossom is  the size of a dinner plate.
No exaggeration!
I wonder if it is an indicator of the eventual size of the squash?

And the first-ever adorable melon continues to grow!


Friday, August 22, 2014

life in the garden

 Tomatillo flower!

 The first baby melon!

Crikey, look at the armor on that thistle!

This is the first thistle I've ever seen here,
and I've been watching it grow with a sort of horrified fascination.
It's massive now. Taller than me.
And it is beginning to go to seed because
every time I gear up to tackle removing it...

...I find a butterfly or a bee reveling in the flowers.

So I decide to wait another day or two.

If I have thousands of thistles next year,
it will be entirely My Own Fault.

Even the goats did not tackle this plant,
and who can blame them?

Yeah! Who can blame us?


Monday, August 18, 2014

bank holiday

And another big project is underway!

On the west edge of the Upper West Side,
between the perimeter fence and the driveway,
is a narrow rocky bank.
It is partially supported by an old stone wall
that has been gradually collapsing for decades.

At the base of the wall is a narrow strip of rocky garden,
with violets and daylilies, and other lovely blooming things.

"Where are these violets?" you might well be asking.

"And what daylilies?"

 Fair question!
I think they're under here:

Buried beneath a tangle of bittersweet, grape,
forsythia, rubus...and did I mention bittersweet?
Every Spring I spend days hand-cutting and removing invasives
before the violets and daylilies (and I) become overwhelmed.
And prior to this year, I have always managed to enjoy 
at least some flower garden.

But last Winter, when a lot of this sort of thing was going on:

there was an unfortunate incident involving the plowman.
The result was a sadly gouged-up garden
buried beneath a heavy layer of driveway gravel and stone.
It wasn't the plowman's fault; my driveway is terrible.
I am very fortunate to have a plowman, after long years without.
(Some years, I call my driveway The Snowshoe Highway.)

But I must admit, it was disheartening
to imagine what the "garden" would look like come Spring.
And sure enough, almost all the plants appearing this Spring
 were those hardy and tenacious and prolific invasives.

So, when I recently hired the brushcutting fellow,
one of his first assignments was to take 99% of this bank vegetation
Right Down To The Ground.
Here's a progress shot, looking north after the first session.
See the bright green area along the fence to the left?
That's the edge of the terrace garden.

For scale, that fence is 6-foot woven wire with 2x4" openings.
Which makes this amazing squash plant about 7 feet tall so far:

It's a Sow True Seed winter squash, called
The description says each squash can weigh 25-40 pounds!
Do you think I should make little hammocks to support the 
two baby squash(!) already growing high up on the fence? 

I'm thinking maybe.

Today the brushcutting was finished.
When my younger helper comes on Wednesday,
he can pull all the wilted (by then) cuttings off the bank
and pile them up on the Very Raised Bed.
I am loving having a way to make good use of such material!

Now, I would love to have your advice, all you lovely gardeners!

I'd like to plant the whole bank with perennials this Autumn.
Any recommendations for plants?
What are your undemanding perennial favorites?
I'm in Zone 5, and the bank is rocky (of course).
It gets a lot of afternoon sun.
I'm hoping for plants that will spread densely,
but not grow tall enough to shade the terrace garden above.

So far, I'm considering daylilies and iris
(tall, so they would be planted at the base of the stone wall),
and several varieties of shorter coreopsis along the upper bank.
I've never grown coreopsis; not even dyer's coreopsis.
It is an annual, and since it is so difficult to garden here,
the return of perennials is important. To my sanity. seems there are now perennial coreopsis,
reputed to be equally hardy and even more colorful.
And perhaps a dye source! Worth a try.

That's all I've come up with for possibilities so far.
Please, please feel free to make suggestions.
Prepping and planting this garden is going to be a lot of work.
Any guidance to making it successful will be much appreciated!



It is Sunday this time. I checked.

Right after morning chores, Piper and I headed to the pond.
Our trip had three purposes.
The first was, of course, Piper Entertainment.

By the way, it is really difficult to get pictures of Piper lately.
She deliberately avoids the camera.
As soon as she sees it, she swiftly ducks her head
and looks at me reproachfully from the corner of her eye.

Like this:

It's truly bizarre.
All I can think of is she has started her own blog
and resents my use of her images on this one.
Secondly, our trip was part of the new
Cloud Harvest Cashmere Capture and Release Program.
Specifically, I am live-trapping chipmunks and mice in the goat barn,
and releasing them in a lovely location with natural shelter,
abundant food sources, running water,
and a lack of human habitation for miles in all directions.

I wouldn't do this when wild food sources are not available,
so it is important to do it now, well before Winter.
Plenty of time for the critters to make cozy nests
and gather up supplies to replace the oats
they've been stealing from the goats all day, every day.

Piper hasn't made the connection yet,
but every time the little traps close,
she gets to go to the pond!
Yesterday we went three times.
I will not be surprised if we do the same today.
Current tally: Mice 3, Chipmunks 4
The third reason for our trip this morning was to collect goldenrod.
Dyepot time!
I only took about 20 stems, because the flowers were being
enjoyed by thousands of tiny mystery insects.
Any entymologists here?
The bugs were thin, less than 1/2 inch long,
with orange heads and dark grey bodies. Very stylish.
They did not wish to leave the flowers.
I had to touch each one gently so it would fly to another flowerhead.
Back at home, google failed(!) to identify the bugs.
I am just hoping they do not destroy vegetables,
because despite my careful efforts
I'm sure I brought a few hundred home.

Since I took so few goldenrods,
I added a bit of Queen Anne's Lace
and a little yarrow.
(It's an experiment. It's ALL an experiment.)

Then I took every whole, clean leaf from each goldenrod stalk.
For some stalks, this meant nearly every leaf.
For others, it meant almost none.
When I was finished, Piper checked my work:

The clean leaves went into a quart jar
and boiling water was added.

I recently read that goldenrod leaves make a nice tea,
so I'll try it and report back.

The dyepot simmered gently all afternoon,
and is now cooling.
It smells nice.
At least, I think so.
But I've heard people complain about a black walnut dyebath,
and I think that smells nice, too.

If this was a scratch-and-sniff picture,
you could all weigh in!

When I first tried botanical dyeing, I intended to keep detailed records:
weights of plants and fiber, temperatures and times, and so on.
And keep samples of all results: fiber, fabric, other.
(Because I have that sciencey mind, you know.)
However, that approach soon seemed pointless. And joyless.
Because the variables are many, and some are uncontrollable.
Replication is, in a word, unlikely.

Now I approach each dyeing experiment
as a potentially lovely surprise.
And some have especially sweet associations:
plant materials collected for me by a forester I used to work with,
or the dye made with leaves and twigs of a tree that meant a lot to me,
and which is now sadly gone.
(Piper killed it - on purpose - but we don't talk about that.)

I don't plan to use today's dye immediately,
but when I do I will post about it.

Have you ever dyed with plants?
I'm sure some of you are far more experienced than I am.
I'd love it if you would share your thoughts - 
or even a link to your favorite dyeing blogpost? - 
in the comments!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

a ramble in the gardens

I haven't written much about my gardening endeavors this year,
not because it hasn't been an daily activity for several months...

Remember my seedlings? Much bigger now!

...but because everything has been sooooo slow.
Slow to grow, slow to flower.
Until this past week, the only vegetable I harvested was kale.
Thank you, kale! You have given me hope. And food.

A few days ago, I harvested the first straightneck summer squash
from the new and heavily mulched bed near the goat barn.
At first glance, I thought the camera was over-reacting, but no:
this extreme yellow is the genuine color of the squash:

Like last year, there are little garden beds in multiple places, 
and a slightly larger garden on the edge of the Upper West Side terrace.
The Upper West Side is a goat browse area,
but a small sunny section is fenced off for the garden.
(I have plans to make it bigger next year!)

There are winter squash growing up the 6-foot perimeter fence,
and you can perhaps make out the sweet corn and pole beans in the background:

I tried the corn/beans/squash "companion planting" thing.
So far, not impressed.
It all looks more "naturally competitive" than "companionable" to me:

During Wednesday's daylong deluge, some of the corn took quite a whalloping.
And now we're having very cool weather. Like October-cool.
Will the corn manage to produce ripe ears?
It's a rollercoaster ride, this gardening thing.

And here's a high point:

The very first Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Acorn Squash,
harvested the day after the storm!
This is one of three Sow True Seed heritage squash varieties I planted
as part of Tipper's Blind Pig and the Acorn "Squash Reporters @ Large" project.
For weeks I have been reading about other gardens and other squash,
and wondering if I would have anything to contribute before Winter.
Waiting, waiting, waiting...
Lots of plants. Lots of leaves. Lots of flowers.
Waiting, waiting, waiting...

Look, Tipper! I got one! 

(And many flowers on all three varieties. Fingers crossed!)

Meanwhile, there's one other precious harvest taking place
by the daily handful:

My lone surviving highbush blueberry
also had a slow, tough haul into Summer,
but is now doing very well indeed!
This is especially satisfying, because last year the bush was clearly
in trouble, striving to recover after a series of catastrophic events.
I did my best to help, but as you know...
well, I love plants, but I'm more useful with animals.

This blueberry bush is a survivor!

Doesn't it make your mouth water?
Mine, too!

All day long, I have thought today was Sunday.
Even when I was at the dump - which is only open on Saturday -
I told someone I'd see them "tomorrow," meaning Monday.
I wonder what day I will think it is tomorrow.

Whatever day you think it is, I hope you are having a good one!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014


It's the middle of the afternoon, and it's been pouring hard all day; one of those rains where your clothes feel damp almost before you step outside. Thunderstorms are predicted until midnight, so I'm posting a quick note in case the power goes off.

There's a droplight in the barn, but apart from that little glowing corner, it's nearly dark - too dark for photographs. I've spent most of the past two days here, keeping an eye on the goats. The vet came out yesterday to wether the baby bucks, who will now grow up to be (one hopes, fingers crossed, touch wood!) useful and pleasant members of the gang o' goats.

"Wethering" is the process of turning a male goat from a buck (intact male) to a wether (castrated male). There are three ways that I know of to wether a goat; let me know if you'd like me to write about this in detail. I'm often surprised at what readers find interesting, but in this case, I thought I'd ask first!

But this is the view I usually have of Campion.

For the first time ever, I briefly considered keeping this year's boys to grow up as bucks, because each one showed characteristics I'd love to reinforce in my herd genetics. But it was a fleeting thought; I'm not set up to keep bucks here and really have no desire to do so. Having a selected buck visit for a month or six weeks is plenty, to my way of thinking. Goat breeders sometimes say, "The bucks don't smell as much when the does aren't in season," and I think you can spot the two critical words in that sentence, right?

Perhaps you remember Dara?

So the boys must be wethered if they are to live here, eating invasive plants in the warm seasons, growing cashmere in the cold seasons, and being generally pleasant and entertaining all year round.

Like the two-year-old brothers, Betula and Acer. Here they are, back in April:

So civilized!
"You must have the larger carrot penny, Bet."
"Oh no, I wouldn't dream of it, Acer!"

(I jest.)
So as of 10 AM yesterday, Dara and Campion are wethers. They are also rather subdued little goats after their surgery. I think a lot of it is the after-effects of anesthesia, but some of it is certainly discomfort. When they were still moving slowly this morning, I gave each a buffered aspirin and within two hours could see an improvement. It's a relief, to me as well as to them. Not that they were in any danger, but it's hard to see any creature feeling poorly, especially when there's no way to assure them that this unfamiliar unpleasantness will soon pass, and life will once again be a festival of hay and play and snoozing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

move over, teddybears

because everyone loves a picnic!

I dragged some freshcut branches to the upper paddock this morning.

Black birch: always a crowd favorite!
Each branch puts out many lateral side-branches, 
so if a big branch is hung on a fence,
goats on both sides have equal access to lots of leaves.


Wildlife note:
moose also love black birch (Betula lenta).
 I recall a natural resources debate about the reason for this,
and I stand firmly by my theory:
moose want minty-fresh breath.


Goats are very particular about which leaf they wish to eat.


Very, very particular.


Even the babies:

Azalea and her mama, Lily of the Valley

Dara and his mama, LeShodu

Of course, in the snap below,
Betula is reaching for a leaf on Lily's side of the fence,
and vice versa.

My fault.
I don't know what I was thinking,
distributing All The Best Leaves
on the Other Side.

 I apologize for the quality of these pictures.
They are like not-really-very-good family holiday snaps
where a fuzzy subject is also half out of the frame.
I was mostly holding the camera over my head
and optimistically shooting down through the foliage.
9 out of 10 images looked like this:

But just in case you've never been to a goats' picnic before,
I wanted to invite you to this one.
Go on, nibble a twig.
Minty-fresh breath isn't just for moose!