Category Archives: High Reaches

My Way of Country Living

Waiting Game Gardening

Much of the garden is producing enough produce to bury the kitchen. But I am doing waiting game gardening.

Summer crops are frost sensitive. They like it on the warm side of hot. Cooler weather slows those tomatoes and peppers down.

Speckled Roman tomatoes play waiting game gardening
The tomato vines know the season is ending as leaves turn brown from the bottoms of the plants. The tops ignore this warning and are still lush and producing tomatoes. There are some tobacco hornworms (often confused and acting the same as tomato hornworms) eating the leaves plus a few tomatoes. Earlier in the season I picked them off to the delight of the chickens. Now they are reducing the amount of plant I will soon have to carry out of the garden. I grow Speckled Roman paste (pictured), Pineapple, Abe Lincoln and St. Pierre. Cherry tomatoes come up on their own every year.

The plants seem to know their days are numbered. Their tops are still lush. The under sides are dropping leaves. The pepper plants have a yellow cast.

Tomatoes and peppers are ripening at smaller sizes. The long beans are producing seeds when the pods are still short.

Mosaic Yard Long Beans
Yard long beans look like beans, cook like beans, but must be different somehow as wood chucks don’t like them and eat other kinds. The flavor is a bit spicy. They stir fry well. They are still producing well even as frost is sneaking up.

Smaller okra plants have finished for the season. Bigger ones are still producing.

And I am playing the waiting game gardening routine.

In the never-ending war with weeds, my attacks begin in the fall. The beds are cleared. Manure is spread. Cardboard is put down. Mulch is piled on top.

Burgundy Okra playing waiting game gardening
The okra is now over five feet tall and still producing. I grow Burmese (green), Jing (orange) and Burgundy (red) okra. They turned an okra dislike person into an okra fan. It freezes well, if blanched.

Pathways have cardboard put down.

But the summer garden is still growing. Winter squash vines are invading as much area as they can. Their squash is still gaining in size and shelling.

Winter weather and temperatures are coming in soon. Clearing and mulching is no fun when it’s cold.

Waiting game gardening is frustrating.

It’s not that I want winter to get here. I don’t. I’m a spring and summer person. I love planting the garden and watching it grow. Fresh food is delicious.

The abundance now is welcome. It does get tiring eating tomatoes and okra every day. So squash is added now and then.

Seeing a garden jungle of productive plants is satisfying. Clambering past the spreading vines of squash and tomatoes isn’t annoying.

Tahitian Melon
A friend gave me some year old Tahitian melons. The goats loved them so I put out some seeds late. The vines are huge and aggressive. The melons are big. Most are hooked. I’m hoping they will shell soon.

But I know these abundant days are numbered. I know I have a big garden that takes a long time to get settled for the winter. I want to get started.

I can’t. Not until the summer garden is gone for the year. And that is so depressing.

There is the problem of waiting game gardening. One part of me wants the garden to keep going. One part of me wants to put the garden to bed for the winter.

The weather will determine the end of this game.

Competitive gardening for the county fair is part of “Mistaken Promises” Hazel Whitmore series #3.

Endless Goat Year

Fall has arrived in the Ozarks along with cold nights and a smelly buck. Augustus is more interested in the does than his breakfast. Another part of the endless goat year.

People like to have a place to start the year. It’s an excuse to leave mistakes behind and try again.

For dairy goats the year never ends, only cycles through the seasons. Fall is breeding season.

My herd is smaller now, only fourteen does. Three are aged and retired. Four will continue to be milked over the winter. Two will have kids in November. That leaves five does to be bred in October.

Nubian doe High Reaches Drucilla is part of the endless goat year
Nubian doe Drucilla seems to like having her kids in the fall. She is due about November, but is already hanging heavy. She is a big doe and usually has big, healthy kids.

Fall breeding season might be a good time to begin the dairy goat year. But there is no real break. Milking continues every day. Goat care continues. Barn cleaning is necessary before winter. The endless goat year marches on.

The last few years a couple of does have had their kids in late fall to early winter. In the Ozarks Nubians breed all year.

The first time I expected frozen kids and lots of trouble. The kids were fine and livened up dull winter months. And the milk was welcome in the early spring when the other milkers began to falter.

Before these kids, all my kids were born in March and April. Perhaps that made spring feel like the beginning of a new year.

Nubian goat kids are part of the endless goat year
Spring Nubian goat kids go out with the herd when only a few weeks old. The grass is still short making it harder for them to get left behind. This one has found a good place to rest among the roots of a fallen tree.

But it wasn’t. Milking, chores, barn cleaning, hoof trimming continued the same way as before the kids. The endless goat year rolled on through into summer.

Since I am the only one caring for my goats, I am always here for milking. This gets frustrating as I can go no where unless the trip fits between morning and evening chores. The days blur one into another making an endless goat year for me.

As my herd dwindles, that year may sometime in the future come to an end. After forty-six years of routine, that is a bit liberating and frightening.

Kidding season can be daunting for a new goat owner as Harriet found out in “Capri Capers.”

Acorn Season Arrives

Turkeys were gleaning grass seed in the pastures. They are staying up in the woods now that acorn season has arrived.

Unlike cows, goats can eat lots of acorns with no problems. Like deer goats love acorns.

Nubian doe High Reaches Pamela eating acorns
Nubian doe High Reaches Pamela is definitely enjoying acorns as she chews up the latest mouthful.

Most mornings now I milk, put up the milk, then walk out with the goats. They had been going out to eat grass seeds.

We marched out to the end of the south pasture. They fanned out. I walked back in.

Acorn season has changed the routine. The goats are still eager to get out to the south pasture. They charge up the hill into the woods leaving me to fend for myself.

I wanted pictures of the five little wethers as I do need to sell them and don’t want to go to the sale barn in the middle of the crowds of people who may or may not wear masks and probably ignore social distancing. I took a couple of pictures in the pasture and then went up into the woods.

Nubian goat herd hunting acorns during acorn season
The Nubian herd crosses into the woods and immediately fans out, every head to the ground searching for the acorns. Different kinds of oaks drop acorns at different times and the goats seem to know which trees have the most bounty below them.

The herd was there, heads down, snuffling through the fallen leaves. There were scrapes in some places where the turkeys had been doing much the same.

I took a few more pictures trying to fill out the herd so I can change the pictures in the My Goat gallery. The pictures are mostly of goats with their heads buried in leaves.

There must not be a lot of acorns on the ground yet. The herd took off across the pasture toward another hill. They were soon back to snuffling through the leaves.

acorn season has Nubian doe High Reaches Spring searching for acorns
The goats ignore the vegetation during acorn season. Instead they go looking for the acorns. The acorns make the goats fat as they do deer and turkeys.

In the evening it’s easy to tell acorn season is here. The goats look big, almost bloated. They have this satisfied attitude.

That holds until I open the milk room door. Cool weather, buck musk and acorns seem to make every goat especially hungry.

Find out more about raising goats in the novel “Dora’s Story.”

Finding Chicken Eggs

When chickens are confined within a yard, finding chicken eggs is easy. They are normally all in the provided nests.

As soon as chickens are allowed to range, finding chicken eggs becomes challenging. For some of my hens the provided nest boxes are no longer the nests of choice.

Speckled Sussex hen in nest box
This hen is using the nest box today. Yesterday she was up on the hay bale. She likes to keep me hunting for her eggs.

At first I tried keeping the hens in the chicken yard until late in the afternoon. I assumed most of the hens would lay early in the day.

My hens did not lay early in the day. They preferred the afternoon.

Even those that would lay early, but wanted to lay somewhere other than the nest boxes, waited until after I opened the gate. There would be a mad dash for the favored nesting spot of each hen.

One barred rock hen hung around in the hen house waiting for me to open the door to go in with the feed bucket. She streaked out and dashed to the open barn door. In the middle of milking she would begin cackling and fly down from the hay bale where she had her nest.

That is one way to liven up milking time.

The hens won. I let them out after I finish morning milking. In the afternoon I start finding chicken eggs.

Some hens do still lay in the regular nest boxes so I check there first. The next stop is on that high hay bale. Luckily there is a ladder stored next to the hay.

Lately that spot is abandoned by most of the hens that did lay there. They’ve moved into the hay trough in the goat barn.

finding chicken eggs in the hay trough
Nest boxes, phooey. Hay trough, good. Even when the hay level gets low, the hay trough is better than using a well padded nest box. At least that is what several hens think.

One hen has found a gap between hay bales on the floor. Some hens don’t bother with nests at all.

One morning I let the hens out. A speckled Sussex came out of the gate, squatted near my feet, popped out an egg and took off. Another egg was left near the goat water bucket.

The chicken yard is an expanse of dirt and gravel. The eggs are so much better if the hens have access to grass and other greens. The challenge is finding chicken eggs laid by hens running loose invariably leaves some out for the raccoons.

Raising chickens is a popular rural and, now, suburban pastime. Hazel didn’t start out a country girl. Find out why she became one in “Broken Promises.”

Surprise Pet Chicken

Chickens are a great homestead addition. They have so many advantages. My flock is composed of many breeds. This year an Easter Egger is a surprise pet chicken.

I like my chickens friendly, but don’t try to make pets of them. These can become nuisances quickly.

surprise pet chicken
All right. I admit I baited my pet Arcana to get this picture. It didn’t help much as she was pecking so fast most of the pictures had a blur for her head. Like all chickens, food is a big motivator for her. Even so, most of my Arcanas won’t let me this close no matter what the food offered is.

Instead I choose calm, friendly breeds like Buff Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex and standard Cochins. Barred Rocks and New Hampshires are active chickens, but usually easy going.

Then there are the Arcanas and Easter Eggers. Blue, green and pink eggs are fun to collect. The pullets and hens are wild.

Surprise pet chicken
This was supposed to be an easy picture to get. Ha! My pet couldn’t understand she had to stay a little ways away and kept walking up on my feet. I got some great tail shots.

If such a hen is scratching in the dirt and I walk by, she panics and flees squawking loudly. When I spread scratch feed in the evening calling the flock in for the night, I have to stand far from the gate before these hens will come in. Better yet, I leave the coop so they can enter.

This year is different. I have kept four Easter Egger pullets. Three of them are convinced I am a monster and flee at my approach. The fourth is a surprise pet chicken.

milk room clean up crew
Having my Arcana in the milk room works out well. Nubian doe High Reaches Rose is a neat eater. Not so several other does who toss their feed dish around showering oats onto the floor. My pet is glad to peck them up.

This pullet follows me around at times. She likes joining me in the milk room during milking. She eats oats out of my hand. I can even pick her up, but she isn’t thrilled.

Speckled Sussex hens are friendly. They come racing over to see me. I can pick them up or stroke their backs.

My chickens are semi free range. I let them out several hours each day and pen them the rest of the time. Chickens like company so my pet spends lots of time out with the other pullets. She keeps an eye out for me and comes over to find out what is going on often hanging out near where I am busy.

This behavior isn’t so much pet like as calculating. I mean food. They are voracious little things. They come over as much to see if I have some tidbit for them as to see me.

My surprise pet chicken does look for food. Goats are messy eaters and she likes cleaning up dropped feed. She likes getting special tidbits.

But this pullet seems to like my company as well. She hangs around places where I’m working and clucks to me. After a time she takes off to hang out with the flock.

This pullet is my kind of pet. She likes my company, but doesn’t stay underfoot.

In “Mistaken Promises” Hazel raises Buff Orpington pullets as a way to become more of a country girl and belong to the local 4-H Club.

Garlic Chives Pollinators

One section of my garden is turning white and humming with visitors. The garlic chives pollinators are holding their annual convention.

buckeye butterfly on garlic chives
Garlic chive flowers are popular with the butterflies. The monarchs found them one year. Several buckeye butterflies were busy this year. They tend to fan their wings while sipping nectar.

Years ago my father gave me a ten inch pot of garlic chives. He had several rows of it in his garden. He would cut off a row and feed it to his goats every week.

wasps are garlic chives pollinators
This is a stout wasp. When it buzzes in, the other insects move to other umbels. The reddish color is from red hairs.

I knew what chives were, or so I thought. They were this kitchen herb used to flavor eggs and other such dishes. Except those are onion chives.

honeybees are garlic chives pollinators
There were honeybee hives behind the house when we first moved here. The beekeeper was old. The hives were abandoned and the bees moved out. Now they nest in the wild, but still enjoy the bounty of the garden such as the garlic chives.

Garlic chives can be used as a kitchen herb much as the other is. The leaves of the garlic chives are flat and have a more peppery taste.

dusky wing skipper
Skippers are fun to watch. Their wings tend to separate as they sit on a flower. They are smaller tan many butterflies. The dusky wing group has several kinds.

Potted plants and I don’t do well together. I tend to forget to water or overwater, both of which lead to dead plants. The garlic chives moved into the garden in a nice two foot square area.

striped wasps are garlic chives pollinators
This jet black wasp has two white stripes on the abdomen. It may be a fierce insect other times, but ignores me going by as it gorges on one flower after another.

In August the plants put up their flowering stalks and the garlic chives pollinators moved in. The flowers made seeds. The garlic chives spread and now cover an eight foot by ten foot area.

small red and black wasp
I’m calling this a wasp, but it may be a bee. It is the size of the native bees and holds its wings like they do. It still was enjoying visiting the garlic chive flowers.

The flowers are in umbels or bouquets. The visitors include bees both native and honeybees, bumblebees of at least two kinds, four or more kinds of wasps, flies, beetles, several kinds of butterflies and an occasional hummingbird.

silver spotted skipper
One of the largest skippers, the silver spotted is common here. I see them here and there. The garlic chive flowers are the cue for a convention. The name comes from the white spots on the lower wings.

My garden never seems to lack pollinators. They enjoy the squash, peppers, tomatoes, okra and flowers. I enjoy the harvest.

But the bounty found by the garlic chives pollinators attracts many more kinds and numbers. They are so busy with the flowers I can walk along the paths around the patch to look at and photograph them.

bumbleebees are garlic chives pollinators
Several kinds of bumbleebees live in the area. This is the smallest one and the dullest in color. These do well on the garlic chive flowers. The larger ones tend to bend the umbels toward the ground.

Much as I like seeing the flowers and insects, my patch is large enough. After the flowers are done blooming, before the seeds are set, I will cut off the flower stalks for an arm’s length into the patch from all sides tossing the stalks into the patch. The new plants will fill in between the old ones and not spread further out.

Meet more Ozark insects in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Finished Raised Garden Bed

A finished raised garden bed is most satisfying. First because I really missed having it for winter greens. Second because it’s a big project completed.

That huge hole swallowed a lot of dirt and compost. I put it down in layers two to three inches thick. The dirt has a lot of sand in it, but adding more compost over the years will fix that.

As soon as the dirt was in, the temptation to plant took over. Spinach, lettuce, winter radishes, Chinese cabbage and bok choi seeds went in. Only two rows fit so each is a third of a row.

tent stake as tie down
The tent stakes are driven between the rock layers. I plan on tying baling twine to the hook on one side, over the plastic and to a hook on the other side. As I found with the shade house/greenhouse, a twine is tied between these about in the middle of each side. Using slip knots on one side would allow those twines to be untied releasing the plastic on warm days and retied for night protection.

August may seem early to plant fall crops as it is supposed to be hot and dry. That has changed. Fall weather now comes and goes in August.

The finished raised garden bed wasn’t really finished once it was filled with dirt. The winter greens may take a lot of cold, but there is a limit. Protection is a must.

The next step was putting in the two posts, one at each end. They are eight feet tall. I am five feet tall. Post drivers are heavy.

Between a step stool, the bed stone walls, leaning the posts over to start with, the post driver got onto the posts. Once the post was driven in, the driver was down just enough to shove it off onto the ground.

Old electric fence wire was wrapped between the posts every six inches starting a foot over the bed. The ends are duct taped. Plastic is slipped over a wire at the desired height.

finished raised bed
The trellis for the raised garden bed is from an idea in “Straw Bale Gardening” and is two posts with a brace between the tops. Smooth wire is wrapped between the posts every six inches from a foot over the bed to as high as you or the posts want. They do work for vines as is. They also allow for easy plastic covering slipped over the wires. The wire used can change as the plants get bigger. It’s easy to slide the plastic back on warm days. The biggest problem I found was securing the bottom of the plastic. I hope the tent stakes in the bottom tier of rocks will allow me to use baling twine over the plastic. Wind gets in under the plastic and puffs it out until it is blown off.

In the past I’ve used old lumber to secure the ends. This is not a great solution.

This time I bought some metal tent stakes and secured them in the stone wall. Baling twine will tie down the plastic to keep the wind from tearing it off.

Now I have a finished raised garden bed. And the first seedlings are visible.

Garden produce is entered in rural county fairs as in “Mistaken Promises.”

Summer Goat Blues

My Nubian herd gets the summer goat blues in hot, dry weather. They stand in the barn looking out, wanting to go out and refusing to go out.

When convinced, the goats go out bunched closely together. They stand listening. And they hear the enemy zeroing in on them.

Nubian herd has the summer goat blues
The goats went out their pasture gate. They don’t know where to spend the day. Biting flies appear no matter which way the goats go.

There are several aerial attackers out in the hot summer weather. They are called stable flies, deer flies and three sizes of horse flies. The largest horse fly makes a loud buzzing as it streaks in to land on and stab its victim.

I’ve been bitten. It hurts a lot. All of these flies stab in leaving the goats with oozing sores.

summer goat blues don't stop the goat herd
The goats are hungry. The food is out in the pastures. Crowding together means your neighbor may be targeted, not you. The Nubian herd hurries out hoping to get some grazing done before the biting flies discover them.

The flies are worst in sunlit areas. When the weather is hot and sunny, the herd spends most of its time in the old cow barn making occasional forays out to eat until the flies zoom in and the herd retreats.

A week of cool weather slowed the flies down. The goats have enjoyed themselves immensely. They come in gorged on greenery.

Nubian wether goat eating grass seed
Warm season grasses are setting seed now. Grass seed is good grain to the goats so they reap as much as they can. This is High Reaches Juliette’s Lydia’s wether born back in April. He is enjoying his summer. He is for sale.

The hot weather drives me indoors much of the day. My computer is busy even though “The Carduan Chronicles” progresses slowly. This week it has been upstaged by an old project.

“Goat Games” was my first book. It started as a challenge to create puzzles about goats and morphed into much more. Along with lots of pencil puzzles, there are breed pages about fifteen different goat breeds, information pages including making cheese and ice cream and goat trivia.

Getting ready to have more copies printed, I looked over my files. And cringed.

"Goat Games" by Karen GoatKeeper
One of the special things about writing “Goat Games” was meeting so many goat owners. The people may be different, the young people grown up, but goat owners remain special in their relationships with their goats.

The summer goat blues arrived in the form of unanticipated editing. The pages were numbered incorrectly. Much of the writing needed adjusting. Some of the puzzles needed spiffing up.

The new copies of “Goat Games” will cost more as I printed them the first time, but not this time. The book will look much better as I have learned a lot over the years.

Unfortunately for my Nubians, the summer goat blues will return this week as hot weather again moves in.

Look over some sample pages and try to work the puzzles for “Goat Games“. I hear the puzzles are harder than I expected when I created them.

Summer Squash Season

Hot summer weather is good summer squash weather. There are lots of varieties to choose from with lots of different tastes.

In the past I’ve grown patty pan with its cool melon honeydew taste. Zucchini and its similar varieties are a favorite. Yellow crookneck has that difficult shape. The yellow straightneck is nice.

Zephyr summer squash plants
My winter squash plants are racing along with vines trying to cover the garden. The zephyr summer squash has foot long vines and huge leaves.

This year I’m growing Zephyr. Its shape is similar to a zucchini. It’s color is yellow at the narrow end and green over the seeds. White spots scattered over all aren’t very noticeable, but pale the other colors. It has a mild flavor.

Summer squash is easy to grow from seed. I dig down and turn out a shovel full of dirt. The hole is filled with compost. The dirt is replaced to form a mound. Seeds are stuck in the mound and watered in.

zephyr summer squash fruit
Since their vines are so short, summer squash plants send up lots of closely spaced flowers. The tall ones are males. The short ones with tiny squash below them are female flowers. Zephyr squash is partially yellow and partially green.

Seeds germinate in about a week with large oval cotyledons. Small leaves follow. The plants remain small for about two weeks.

The plants are busy putting down roots. Unlike winter squash, summer squash plants do not vine. The roots arrive at the compost. Overnight the leaves reach a foot across and the plants double in size.

adult squash bug
An adult squash bug has long antennae on a small, long head. The thorax is triangular. Wings begin behind the thorax and cross over each other making a triangular shape marking the bugs as members of the true bug family. All members of the family have a stabbing mouth part. As squash bugs feed on sap, insecticides don’t kill them as they don’t eat them. The squash bugs are similar to wheel assassin bugs which prey on other insects.

My summer squash plants are waist high and as big in circumference. They are blooming madly. Squash is forming and overflowing in the refrigerator.

That bane of any cucurbit grower has noticed my squash. Squash bugs do prey on other plants out in the pasture. They prefer the taste of squash.

summer squash bug eggs
Squash bugs lay lots of eggs. They are often in a triangular formation between two veins. These are more scattered. Other times they are in a long line up a stem or petiole. In hot weather they can hatch in a few days.

These pests are in the true bug family which means they have wings that cross on their backs making a little triangle at the top. They feed by stabbing their mouth into a stem or leaf and drinking the sap.

Squash bugs begin as eggs. These are often laid as a group between two veins near and under the leaf. They can be strung out along a stem. They can be a cluster on top of a leaf.

I remove and squash as many as I can find.

The eggs hatch into little gray nymphs. They stay as a group sucking the leaf dry. The nymphs molt and grow larger.

squash bug nymphs
Squash bug nymphs start as tiny dark grey things like in the upper right. They molt and become the small gray nymph. These molt and get bigger. The next molt gives them an adult shape. All of them drink sap and drink leaves and stem dry. They will feed on juices in a developing squash stunting or destroying it.

Finally the nymphs become winged adults. These and other adults hide during the day in mulch, nearby grass, under leaves and stems. Whenever I find them, I squash them. They stink when squashed.

Eventually the bugs overwhelm the summer squash plants and kill them. Until then I will battle their infestation and enjoy the squash.

Stone Walls For Raised Garden Bed

With the first raised garden bed, I found I liked having the stone walls. I like the looks of the walls. And stones have advantages.

Stones heat up quickly in the sunny south facing wall. They stay hot after sunset. This keeps the dirt in the bed warmer for the plants.

Stones do get cold when the temperatures drop and clouds hide the sun. Using the liner inside the walls should help insulate the dirt as there is air between the two. Air is insulating.

stone walls of raised garden bed
I’ll admit a few of the stones are purely decorative. They are ones I saw along the creek and found interesting or pretty or both. However, the main walls are solid enough to sit on or lean on. Presently the gap between the walls and the liner is large enough to harbor a chipmunk. This is probably a mistake. However, it is cute. It probably won’t last long as a copperhead came through the other day. That was a surprise. It wasn’t impressed with the flood coming from the hose and moved out quickly.

Building the new stone walls was different. The first time I put in a rock layer, filled in with dirt, then repeated the process. This time the walls were free standing around the lining of roofing tin.

The walls had to be solid. I sit on them. I lean over them. I work around them. The stones are heavy and I don’t want them to collapse under or on me.

Assembling the rock jigsaw puzzle was challenging. I assembled, took down, repositioned, took down, tried another rock and rebuilt several times. The final test was leaning on the stone walls to pull the numerous morning glory seedlings coming up inside.

Now that the stone walls are up, the raised garden bed needs dirt. The bed is roughly three feet wide, ten feet long and two feet high. It will take sixty square feet of dirt to fill it.

That is a lot of dirt.

dirt needed inside stone walls
The roofing tin liner will hold the dirt inside the raised garden bed. The front corners needed corner pieces as the gaps between the front and sides was too big. As the dirt fills the bed, the tin is pushed out closer to the walls.

I had some dirt in feed sacks from disassembling the old raised bed. I dumped it in. The raised bed now has one inch of dirt in it.

There is a small pile of dirt I can move. There is a big pile of composted goat manure to move. I plan to fill and move four buckets of dirt every day, more if possible.

Why so little each day? Heat and humidity make working outside in the sun impossible for me by noon. Shade doesn’t return to this area of the garden until late in the afternoon.

As the dirt level rises, the liner will press outwards against the stone walls. This will further stabilize them. And I have about six weeks before planting time to get that dirt moved.

Assembling Rock Jigsaw Puzzles

Many years ago I tried building a raised garden bed out of foundation stones from an old home site. I grew wonderful spinach in it all winter, but had major problems. The only solution was to take it down and rebuild leaving me again assembling rock jigsaw puzzles.

There were two major problems with the old raised garden bed. One was the wall construction. Since the rock walls were stacks of rough stone with gaps between them, every rain washed dirt out.

raised garden bed site
Once the old raised bed was removed and the dirt raked level, the site was ready to begin rebuilding. The old bed was up against the garden fence. The new one is a foot away. The bed shape and size will be dictated by the piece of welded 1″ x 2″ wire used as a mole deterrent under the dirt.

As the dirt washed out, the rock walls leaned in. Some parts collapsed.

The location was great for winter spinach growing. I needed plastic over the bed in really cold weather. The wire method from Straw Bale Gardening worked well for putting the plastic up.

Unfortunately wind got under the plastic and blew it around. The plastic had to be held down. Weighting the ends wasn’t enough. I finally ended up leaning lengths of cattle panel on the plastic.

pieces for assembling rock jigsaw puzzles
As I removed the rocks from the old walls, I set them in sections according to length. Depth separation would have helped. Few are rectangular. Sizes vary. Ends slant or are rounded or knobby. Almost all have at least one fairly flat side to go on the inside against the liner. Selection of each block is done carefully as they are heavy. And, as work progresses, I seem to need more rocks. Luckily the Ozarks has lots of rocks, many of them suitable for adding to my raised garden bed wall.

On warm days I wanted to slide the plastic down the wires and let the plants enjoy the weather. The panels were difficult to handle and a mess to work with.

The first problem had a number of possible solutions. One was to replace the stones with cement blocks. This was ruled out due to expense and, besides, I like the stones.

I could cement the stones together. This would require putting in a gravel foundation to protect the walls from winter freezes and thaws.

Building a raised garden bed using cement implies permanency. Judging from what has happened to the rest of this valley over the years, no one will use this bed but me. This place, like the others, will be allowed to grow up in brush and trees and used once a year by deer hunters.

challenge of assembling rock jigsaw puzzles
This raised bed has new end rocks from a place where they are no longer needed. Although I am trying to fit the rocks together closely, the spaces between won’t matter as much because I will line the bed to keep the dirt in the garden. What the rocks will do is gather heat to warm the garden during the winter, define the garden and look nice. The rock wall is a nice place to sit, if the rocks aren’t too hot.

Instead I will put up a liner of old roofing tin inside the rock walls.

The old raised bed is taken apart. The area is surrounded by piles of stones. I am again assembling rock jigsaw puzzles.

Assembling rock jigsaw puzzles is challenging. Each stone must be evaluated for height, width, length, flatness along three sides and top and bottom. Each is fit into place. That last stone in a row must be the right length or several stones get replaced until they all fit.

The bottom layer is done. Next I will construct the lining. The resident lizards are watching eagerly for the new raised bed and return of their basking stones.

Basil Variety Exists

On the grocery store herb rack there is one variety of basil. This might lead a person to think only one basil variety exists.

basil variety Sweet or Mammoth
This is the variety of basil I usually grow. Mammoth or sweet basil lives up to its name. The plant can be three feet tall with large crinkled leaves. It is not very compact. This variety tastes much like the market dried variety.

The herb pages in seed catalogs might disillusion the prospective gardener, if that one looks at these pages. I rarely do.

A friend gave me a purple opal basil plant one year. It was interesting to grow.

basil variety Purple Opal
I’m not sure what gives this variety of basil the deepest color. Purple Opal is a smaller plant and bushy. The flavor is mildly spicy.

The local market has a greenhouse set up for another local company to display transplants in every spring. I browse the shelves simply because I like to see what is available.

basil variety Genovese
Genovese basil is said to be the best for pesto. The plant is large and a vigorous grower. The flavor is intense and spicy enough to make it hard to keep a half leaf in the mouth very long.

I raise my own seedlings or try to every spring. They get a late start due to temperature and light challenges so are never as big as those transplants. However I get to raise the varieties I want to grow instead of the standard ones available.

basil variety Cinnamon
The leaves on Cinnamon basil are not the crinkly ones of other basils. They are also a bit smaller. When I tried chewing on half a leaf, I discarded it before I really tasted it as my mouth heated up like with a spicy hot pepper or a wild spearmint leaf.

By the end of May most people in my area have put in their gardens. The past few years they’ve done this twice due to late frosts. My seedlings get a chance to catch up in the house safe from such weather vagaries.

basil variety Lemon
I expected a basil flavor from the leaf of Lemon basil I tried. It was there behind a tangy lemon flavor. The plant has a yellow tinge to it. It is larger than Siam, but not big like Genovese and is tightly bushy.

Some transplants are left behind and put on drastic sale. This year those leftovers included six varieties of basil. I succumbed to temptation.

basil variety Siam
Siam basil is a compact, decorative plant. It does have a nice basil flavor, but not as intense as the other varieties I grew this year. It is a pretty plant with green leaves and dark red stem tips.

My tomatoes are now accompanied by six varieties of basil: Mammoth or sweet basil; Purple Opal basil; Siam Basil; Cinnamon basil; Genovese basil; and Lemon basil. What I will do with such a basil variety in my kitchen, I’m not sure.

In the meantime the plants are big and healthy. They are blooming. (I know I should harvest the leaves before the plants bloom, but everything is behind this year. I will pinch them back and get them to branch out again.)

All of the varieties have a typical leaf shape, although the size varies. Their coloring varies.

Now I need six paper bags. Why? Each basil variety will go in a labeled bag, closed and put in the refrigerator to dry. This method works very well.

Cooking is important to Hazel Whitmore in Broken Promises, Old Promises and Mistaken Promises. Recipes are included in the books.

Raccoon Kits Time

Surrounded by open woods and fields with a creek, raccoons are common through spring into fall. But early summer is raccoon kits time.

Raccoons are so cute in pictures. They have these furry, triangular faces with a black masks. They have striped tails. They have big eyes that look at you.

Pictures are one thing. Living with raccoons is another.

Raccoons have hands. They are strong. They climb. They are vandals.

We call this raccoon Whiteface as she has virtually no mask. The first time we met her, she had stolen the woodpecker’s suet cake and was happily devouring it. She was trapped and relocated. She returned about two days later and now shovels sunflower seeds into her mouth as fast as she can. The birds are disgusted.

If a raccoon gets into a room with ten bags of feed, even feed it doesn’t like, it tears open every bag and dumps feed all over the floor. If a raccoon gets into a hen house, it kills every chicken it can catch. If a raccoon gets into a garden, it digs up every plant in the area it’s looking for grubs in. If a raccoon gets into corn or a fruit tree, it will take every piece or, at least, a bite out of every piece.

Raccoons do have one weak spot. They love marshmallows.

Every spring we get out the livetrap, bait it with marshmallows and start catching the raccoons. Livetraps are the best choice as traps can catch a wide variety of creatures such as gray foxes and pet cats.

An ardent animal lover can point out that most of these raccoons are mothers trying to feed their families. What the raccoons destroy are ways we are feeding our families.

So, we relocate the raccoons. They return in a few days to rescue their little ones. We get a few days respite from their ravages.

raccoon kits
Their raccoon mother may have no mask, but these kits do. She is busy teaching them the joys of raiding bird feeders.

The livetraps are now set aside for a time. Raccoon kits time has begun.

Raccoon kits time means the kits are big enough to follow their mothers around. They are not big enough to survive on their own. They are big enough to tempt predators.

raccoon and raccoon kits
Whiteface raccoon is assessing whether or not to continue on to the bird feeder with her kits. Normally she is being yelled at about now. And the camera must be some kind of threat. She decided to withdraw back into the brush and wait for me to go elsewhere.

Besides, trapping the kits without their mothers or the mother without her kits leaves them crying for each other. They will stay around the trap trying to reunite even when approached.

In a couple of months, about the time apples become targets, the livetraps will again be set.

Some of the wild residents are found in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Hiding In Tall Grass

Goats don’t care much for tall grass. They don’t know how is hiding in tall grass waiting to pounce on them.

Seeding grasses do get tall. And thick. Looking out across a field, little more than ears show above the grass.

In the barn lot giant ragweed joins the mix. Lots of creatures like giant ragweed. Goats and deer eat the tips. The ragweed compensates by putting out branches.

Nubian buck hiding in tall grass
Grasses are usually wind pollinated and send up tall flowering stalks to catch the breezes. These stalks go up in a few days. My goats find they get lost easily as all landmarks are hidden from them. Kids keep calling as they lose sight of the herd. Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus is a tall buck with his back three feet tall, yet he is almost hidden in the tall grass.

Once the seeds form, birds flock to giant ragweed. They hang on the branches picking the seeds out of their little cups.

Augustus spends a lot of time in the barn lot. Tall as Augustus is, the grasses hid him. He is not so worried about who is hiding in tall grass as the one in residence keeps company with him.

Working in the garden I looked over to see what Augustus was doing. Hiding in tall grass was a pair of ears that definitely did not belong to Augustus. Watching these ears a head appeared, then a body covered with soft brown fur and white spots.

spotted fawn hiding in tall grass
Tall grass hid me as I slipped closer to the fawn once it lay down. The panels are around some large persimmon trees to protect them from the goats. The fawn can easily get through and has additional protection from predators.

Doe deer have worries about their fawns. Coyotes find fawns make great meals and their own babies are hungry. One doe deer has decided the barn lot and small pasture are safer than the woods or big pastures. Another keeps her fawns near the house.

The next morning the goats went down to the pasture gate to go out. I opened the gate and they started out. Suddenly the herd spun about and overran me.

fawn hiding in tall grass
Tall grass helps fawns hide themselves away. The grass also hides predators. Augustus was nearby so this fawn was standing up and eating some grass too. All that really showed were the large ears swiveling this way and that listening for any approach.

Hiding in tall grass the fawn had panicked. It raced down the fence line fleeing this noisy crowd of goats. They were equally panicked and fleeing from the fawn.

The fawn vanished into more tall grass. The goats crept out of the pasture gate. Peace returned to the area.

Watch the changing landscape of “My Ozark Home” in photographs and haikus.

Chicks Become Pullets

Chicks become pullets to me when they start to cluck. Mine are starting to cluck. They are also outgrowing their little house.

This bunch is lucky so far. They arrived with cold weather, but only two succumbed.

The chicks survived living in the house for over a week. So did we.

arcana chicks become pullets
Easter Egger chickens are Cackle Hatchery’s arcana mix. I like them and all the different colors they come in. They are flighty. They grow up fast. They always seem to be in a hurry to get places, even when that is only a few feet away.

Outside dangers abound. My rebuilt chick house seems to be working well. No large black snakes or raccoons or possums have managed to invade at night.

Once the chicks feather out, they move into the yard during the day. Opening their door in the morning require care.

The various latches are undone. The chick and people doors are swung open taking care to not be standing in front of them. The chicks explode outward running and flying.

suspicious pullets
Pullets love to get up on anything they think they can stand on. These two found an old bit of chicken mesh originally used to block snakes and now too enmeshed with grass to remove. Buff Orpingtons are a lovely golden buff color. They grow into big, gentle chickens and can be very friendly. The Easter Egger Arcana is convinced the camera is some kind of monster. Typical.

The chick yard is small. By the time the chicks are a quarter grown, they are impatient with a yard now devoid of greenery.

Most years the chicks have lots of grass and other weeds. This year they had dock. Only the stems are left. Chickweed tossed in daily was an anticipated treat.

The next step is to put up a temporary fence. Fifty feet of two foot high one inch chicken mesh with metal electric fence poles works well. Even better is how easy it is to move the fence around.

Grass is now in the diet. Bugs are still something to observe and wonder at. The bugs don’t enjoy such immunity long.

A second roll of fencing has made for a bigger yard. This should be as much as is needed before the chicks move. I consider moving them when the chicks become pullets.

The temporary yard exposes the chicks to many hazards. One inspected a copperhead and got bitten. Chicks, even grown chickens, don’t survive such an encounter.

Crows are in the area as I hear them from time to time and see them flying by. Crows will kill half grown chicks and carry them off to feed their own young.

cochin chicks become pullets
Bantam cochins are cute. Bantams don’t fare well in my flock so I have the standard cochins and like them. They do get big. They are a gentle chicken and always look like a soft pile of feathers.

The small chick yard has a baling twine net over it. The larger yard does not.

So my chicks become pullets and should move to the hen house. Except the big black snakes live there under the barn floor.

The pullets are too big for the snakes to eat. They are not too big for the snakes to try.

I’ve been remodeling the hen house. Maybe the big snake holes are now plugged or covered. Should I take a chance?

The pullets are too big for the chick house.

In “Mistaken Promises” Hazel Whitmore raises some Buff Orpinton pullets and enters them in the county fair.

Garlic Scapes Harvest

Gardening books often advise gardeners to cut off garlic scapes. This is to force the plant to put its energy into growing the bulbs bigger.

These scapes are the structures enclosing the flower buds of the garlic plants.

For years I didn’t bother. The garlic blooms are typical globular allium flowers and attract bees and other pollinators. The garlic bulbs looked fine.

garlic scapes on plant
Happy garlic plants want to bloom and put up scapes containing their flowers. Gardeners are advised to cut them off.

What the gardening books don’t mention is that garlic scapes are edible. They are great for stir fry dishes, scrambled eggs and omelets and other recipes wanting a little garlic boost in flavor.

I plant my garlic in the fall. Late spring to early summer, normally the latter in the Ozarks as spring is very short, the garlic plants look thick and stout. A round stalk comes up from the top of the plant. The tip curves down developing a bulge over where the flower buds are forming. The tip of the stalk continues on past this bulge.

These garlic scapes need to be cut young. Each plant produces only one.

My garlic patch is small with about fifty plants. Each one yields one scape.

Would the goats eat the scapes? I suppose so. With so few, I haven’t offered them any. They do eat the garlic plants after I pull the bulbs up.

The bulbs are ready when the first few leaves at the base of the garlic stem turn yellow. This is a few weeks after the scapes are cut.

garlic scape
The garlic scape is a long, thick tube with a bulge in the upper part that will open up to reveal the flowers. The tube continues on past the bulge and tapers to a point.

Garlic bulbs left longer, as until the entire plant turns yellow, will often break apart when pulled up. I still use a potato fork to loosen the dirt before pulling the plants up.

My patch has both hard and soft neck garlic. Making a garlic braid is interesting. I have no place to hang one, so I clip off the bulbs.

The bulbs are spread out to dry thoroughly before being put in an open container in the pantry. Having garlic easy to grab to use encourages me to use more of it. The garlic scapes make a nice introduction to the fresh crop.

In “Broken Promises” Hazel Whitmore finds cooking a good hobby and way to cope with her disintegrating world.

Goats Love Walking Onions

Years ago a friend gave me some walking onion bulblets. I planted them knowing little about the plants or that goats love walking onions.

Another name for walking onions is Egyptian onions. They are expensive in the seed catalogs. I don’t know why as the plants are prolific producers of bulblets.

walking onion patch shows goats love walking onions
Early spring’s green onion style leaves on the walking onions has become a mass of blooming stalks, most now broken off and fed to the goats. A few regular leaves are beginning to grow again.

The plants come up in the early spring. The leaves resemble green onion leaves and can be used in the same ways. They are great in scrambled eggs or in stir fries.

When spring heats up, thick stalks with pale green tops come up. These produce the bulblets.

My first patch was a small row in an out of the way corner. My garlic patch was close by. I soon learned why these are called walking onions.

Those thick stalks grow tall, produce their bulblets and fall over. Wherever those bulblets touch the ground, new plants grow.

Nubian goats love walking onions
Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus thinks breeding season is on. However the lure of a walking onion snack is more important.

My row is now a patch.

The only way to control these plants and still have them to use is to remove the thick stalks. They could go out to the compost heap.

As I walked past the goat yard, the goats came over to find out what I had. I offered one stalk to them.

Surprise. Goats love walking onions.

Now I go out and gather enough stalks for each goat each evening. First I milk. Then I give them the onions.

Some of these stalks are over two feet long. At first I thought I would break these up as the goats couldn’t possibly eat them.

Not true. This is an opportunity to see those facile goat lips in action.

Nubian buck Augustus begging for more walking onions
Two walking onion stalks are not enough according to Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus who asks for more.

The goat grabs the end of the onion stalk and starts chewing. Those lips keep pulling the stalk in.

It reminds me of eating spaghetti noodles when I was young. Put one end in and suck. My mother was not impressed when the end flicked sauce off to wherever.

Feeding a few walking onions a night makes them last longer. Once the stalks are gone, the goats will eat the regular leaves too. After all, goats love walking onions.

Enjoy more goat antics in “For Love of Goats.”

My Mira Cat Favorite Cat

Years ago a feral gray cat arrived at the place and moved in. She was uncatchable. She produced kittens every year. Mira Cat was one of her last kittens.

Gray Cat wouldn’t let anyone touch or catch her, but was agreeable to having her kittens played with. She hid them under the porch where they grew up semi wild until they got old enough to eat.

Mira Cat in the house
Mira was watching me do what she considered silly things. I was doing poses for my picture book “Watching For Fairies” on the floor with the camera set on timer. She was watching the show.

This mother cat never had enough milk so her kittens were always hungry. Canned cat food was a big draw. The kittens were soon tame, coming when called and eating then climbing into the lap. This was a plus as I gave them away.

Mira had two brothers who fit the mold. She didn’t. She was her mother’s shadow. She came out to eat, but never to be petted or touched. Her mother was old and died leaving Mira alone and lonely.

One day I snagged this kitten and took her into the house. She adopted me as her new mother and has been my best cat friend ever since.

Mira Cat as The Lump
That rounded bulge is The Lump. Mira finds the floor cooler in warm weather, but still likes to be hidden.

Mira Cat is still different. During the colder months the bed is covered by a comforter. Mira burrows up under it. The Lump sleeps all day and is most indignant if anyone sits on her.

A favorite perch is up on my shoulder. This wasn’t a problem until Mira grew up, gained weight and size and takes up much more room than the shoulder. Lap sitting is only done during meal times.

Mira Cat playing hard to catch
Mira will blink her eyes, even meow. However she will vanish if I reach over.

Outside my Mira Cat sometimes wants to be touched, sometimes doesn’t. She scales the clothesline poles when I hang laundry. She sits in the fig tree and persimmon tree pots. She hides under the shed.

Over the winter shoestrings are the chosen form of exercise. Mira pounces and chases a few times then hides to attack from ambush.

Warmer months Mira catches mice. This is appreciated. Then she plays with them in the house and they escape. This is not appreciated. Mouse traps are more effective.

There are four fixed toms living here too. Mira isn’t impressed. She is Cat Number One and knows it.

Watching For Toads

The road grader has thoughtfully dug a temporary pond in the road near the barn. Warm evenings finds the toads trilling near it. Mornings find strings of toad eggs in the pond.

I gather up the strings of eggs and move them into a rain barrel. Vehicles splash through the pond often dooming the eggs, if they stay in the pond. Even if the eggs hatch, the tadpoles will perish quickly. The vehicles stir up fine particles of mud that coat the egg strings and tadpole gills so that they suffocate.

The toads never seem to be visible. I do see them around from time to time. They live in my garden, around the house, in the woods. They come out after dark.

Tree frogs are different. They happily invade the rain barrels filling the air with their calls and the barrels with egg masses. They have gotten so used to us coming around, some sit and call posing for pictures.

gray tree frog calling
Each rain barrel seems to have one dominant male gray tree frog along the edge calling. A few have gotten bold enough to continue calling when I walk by or stop to take pictures.

The result is a big file of tree frog pictures and none of the toads. I needed pictures of toads for my picture book “Waiting For Fairies.”

Several of the wild denizens found in my yard appear in my picture book as part of the story. I had pictures of all of them except one.

The Missouri Department of Conservation guidebook to the “Reptiles and Amphibians of Missouri” has one picture. Some other guidebooks have drawings. I tried hard to remember toads I had seen over the years.

My saving grace is my casual drawing and painting style. Those true-to-life drawings and paintings are lovely, but not my style at all. So the toads made it into my picture book.

toads page in "Waiting For Fairies" by Karen GoatKeeper
Toads may not be fairies. They are night visitors around gardens, lawns and houses eating some of the night insects flying by. This is one of the watercolor pages from the upcoming picture book “Waiting For Fairies.”

The sketches for the last two pages are done. The first color is on the pages. Other colors are mixed and ready for adding. Time is important in watercolor painting. Each layer must dry before the next is added.

Once the book is done, I will probably find some toad willing to pose for a picture.

Uncertain Times

My life was a bit on the frantic side until last March. The pandemic arrived bringing uncertain times with it. My life went on hold – sort of.

Anyone with livestock, especially dairy stock, knows life never goes on hold. Chore time arrives every morning and every evening. Nubians are very insistent and vocal about that.

Kids were arriving. Now that does bring uncertain times. There may be a due date, but kids don’t pay much attention. The does don’t either as Natasha is still getting fatter, putting down milk in dribs and drabs and calmly chewing her cud.

Nubian wether kid cheers up uncertain times
Nubian doe High Reaches Agate had a single buck kid this April.

Spring barn cleaning time also arrived. The goats were extra wasteful over the winter so this has been a maddening task. It’s one of those tasks you work on and work on seemingly getting no where until it is done. Maybe next week will see the last of it out to the manure pile.

Baby chicks arrived. The order did have a hatch date. Uncertain times then take over as they might arrive the next day or the next or? They arrived the next day along with a massive cold front.

Baby chicks are not good house guests. They are accompanied by noise, dust and odors. The noise isn’t a problem. The others aren’t supposed to be, but always are as cleaning the box up never seems to keep up.

baby chicks arrive in uncertain times and weather
The first day I opened the outside door for the chicks they stood at the edge and looked. Not one came out. They now have feathers and fly out the door as soon as I open it. The two in front are Easter Eggers. The ones behind are Buff Orpingtons.

My frantic life? It’s on hold still. I visited town once a week. The library was closed so the computers were not accessible. Errands for three days were crammed into one.

I now own a laptop. We are getting acquainted. I’m planning on town two days a week now so I have enough time to do more than turn it on.

My Missouri county has no official cases of Covid-19. Then again I hear from a reliable source the virus arrived in the area last December when no one knew what it was. No one will ever really know.

Uncertain times did have a good side to them. My frantic life has slowed down. It’s wonderful to have time to enjoy being home even if the drudgery work looms.

Planting Potatoes My Way

A friend was wishing she could grow potatoes, but couldn’t dig and hill them. I explained about planting potatoes my way.

Years ago, when I started teaching full time, I spent a weekend planting potatoes the old way. Dig a trench. Put in the potatoes. Cover them. Come back to pull more dirt over the new plants. Eventually dirt is hilled up around the plants.

planting potatoes my way requires lots of mulch
This year I have lots of loose mulch thanks to my picky goats. Other years I have purchased straw or had old, moldy hay. These bales split into flakes. I lay these out and plant along the joints between flakes. Loose mulch is harder to plant through.

My potatoes had their trench. They got covered. And I didn’t have time to come back. I had lesson plans and papers from six different science classes to take care of.

The giant ragweed moved in towering eight feet over those poor potato plants. When I tried to harvest the nubbins of potatoes, I used a saw to cut the ragweed down.


trench burrowed through mulch for planting potatoes my way
I used two methods to deal with the loose mulch. First I created a trench down to the dirt to put the potatoes in. The second method was to set the potatoes out on top of the mulch to arrange them. Then I burrowed down a hole to the dirt and put the potato in. The second method was much faster and easier.

The next year I made shallow trenches, maybe half an inch deep as otherwise the potatoes would meander over the plot. Each seed potato was set out at intervals along the trenches. Mulch hay was piled up over the potatoes with tiny wells above each one.

The potatoes grew. The giant ragweed didn’t. Well, a couple tried and were pulled up.

arranging the potatoes
I tend to plant a bit close together with rows far apart. I also just set them out without measuring, only what looks right. To date the potato plants haven’t complained. They seem to find the garden soil rich enough to ignore my inept arranging.

Harvest time came. I shifted off the last of the mulch and picked up the potatoes.

From then on, over twenty years now, planting potatoes my way has seen some adjustments. The basics remain the same.

1) Set up the rows.

2) Set out the seed potatoes.

3) Cover the potatoes with mulch.

4) Add more mulch as needed to keep it six inches deep.

5) Pull the few weeds that insist on growing.

6) Roll back the mulch and pick up the potatoes at harvest.

Planting potatoes my way does mean smaller potatoes. Of course Yukon gold potatoes are smaller anyway. Mine are a medium size which is fine for us.

planting potatoes my way works for me
The thing about mulch hay is its tendency to tangle up into almost impenetrable mats. Potatoes sprouts can force their way up, but leaving a channel makes life much easier. Besides, I can spread the mulch apart and check on the sprouts when impatience gets too insistent.

Mulch has advantages. Fewer weeds. No digging. Enriches the soil. Holds in moisture during dry spells. Keeps the ground cooler during hot spells.

Mulch does have problems. It usually comes with a seed load. It must be added to as it sinks over the season. It keeps the ground cold in the early spring. It can get water logged.

Planting potatoes my way works well for me here in the Ozarks. It isn’t perfect, but nothing about gardening is.

Assessing PVC Garden Gates

Several people have expressed interest lately in my PVC garden gates. I built mine several years ago and thought an update on them was in order and would answer questions people have about them.

The Missouri Ozarks is a wet place with around 40 inches of rain a year. For years I built wood frames and tacked on wire for my garden gates. They lasted two years.

Disgusted with building new gates every year or two, I decided to try something different: PVC garden gates. They do take time to construct, but the steps are simple and found some previous posts. Building. Hanging.

(Some of the pictures aren’t there. Annoying. Websites seem to have minds of their own at times and evidently thought these posts were too old. I will try to redo them over the weekend.)

PVC garden gates
The metal pole is one the road department replaced as someone ran over the street signs. I drilled holes in it to put the gate hinge bolt through. The chickens come up to look through into the garden, but haven’t been able to open the gate to get through. I usually don’t latch it closed. PVC garden gates work really well. After years of use, this one is a bit dirty and still serviceable.

As I built the gates, I found I made a few mistakes. The major one was not having a hard, level surface to work on.

My working area was out under a black walnut tree where the ground appeared to be level. It wasn’t. A couple of my gates have definite bends in them. These weren’t a problem except for looks.

The second was because I lacked a third metal pole to use for hanging one gate. I had to replace the wood post this year although the original really rotted off last year and I cobbled a support up that gave way this year.

PVC gate
This is my tallest PVC gate. Some algae is colonizing the cross bar. The gate is still fine. The wire around the pipes is my whipstitching holding the wire on. When I have chicks, I use the two rubber straps, one bottom and one top. The cement blocks block a chick escape route.

A mistake I didn’t make was using too light weight pipes. I used heavy walled two inch diameter pipes. This is an excellent size resulting in sturdy gates that are easy to handle.

In all I built four gates: three PVC garden gates and one for the chick yard. This last was six feet tall with a single cross bar like the garden gates. It works fine.

After several years the gates remain as solid and sturdy as when I made them. They swing easily on the gate hinges. I use them a lot, but see no wear on them. There is a bit of algae trying to grow on a couple. Lichens will follow no doubt.

Latching them is still a bit of a challenge. This is when the bent gates are a problem. I use the rubber straps with hooks on both ends. They work.

Do I recommend PVC garden gates? Yes. I wish I had built them years before I did.

Starting Snow Peas Early

Missouri springs are unpredictable. Some years spring is a few days. So I like starting snow peas early in an attempt to beat the heat.

The first of March is really early. The ground is still cold. However, this Ozark winter was mild and the selected spot is under mulch.

starting snow peas early requires a trellis
Hog and cattle panels make great trellises. I attach two wires, one on each side near the end of the panel. As I work alone, I trap the other end against a tree and pull the wires and other end closer and closer until I can attach the wire to the other end. Moving the hoop is awkward due to the size. Once in the garden it can be moved from place to place fairly easily.

Adequate rain made the ground a bit muddy. The cardboard and mulch stopped the weeds. The moles do have some tunnels in the area, but they are avoidable.

Yes, the moles are a nuisance. They adore my garden with its abundance of earthworms, grubs and other mole delicacies. Every bed is criss crossed with their tunnels. Some I collapse. Others I plant on one side or the other and ignore.

securing the trellis
Once vines grow up on a trellis, it catches the wind and blows over. This pulls some of the vines out of the ground. The others tangle and make pushing the trellis back up difficult. The solution is easy. Put in a post against one side and tie the trellis to the post.

Moles do not eat roots, only uproot them building their tunnels. Meadow voles are a different case and the cats generally keep them out of the garden.

Snow peas are long vines and need a trellis. An old hog panel pulled into a curve and wired at the base works well. It is tippy so a well placed post is wise. Standing the trellis back up is not easy, especially if it’s covered with vines.

starting snow peas early under mulch
After all winter the thick cardboard is mostly gone under the mulch. I pull the mulch back along the end of the trellis. If the weather is warm, the ground can be left exposed to warm up for a day or so before planting. I rarely have more than a day to work so I hope the snow peas can take the cold.

Starting snow peas early is iffy. The ground may be too wet or cold. But I shoved the peas into the ground anyway. If some don’t germinate in a couple of weeks, I will replant.

The mulch is several inches deep along each side of the pea row. This will protect the ground from late frosts. It will keep the ground cool for a week if the temperatures shoot up to eighty degrees like they did last year.

planting snow peas early
I plant the peas thickly, two inches apart. As the two ends of the trellis are five feet apart and the ground is well manured, the snow pea plants generally manage fine even if all of them come up. Pulling the mulch close to the row lets the straw get the frost and not the ground.

If the spring stays cool, I will enjoy plenty of snow peas to eat. If spring turns to summer in a week, the pea shoot tips and flowers are edible. And the Mosaic long beans will take over the trellis.

Starting snow peas early is my best chance at enjoying these pods and I’m willing to try.

Three Months Old Nubian Doe Kids

Time flows by. Goat kids grow quickly. And suddenly they are three months old.

Why does this matter?

Buck kids are old enough to start breeding does by three months old. Most aren’t capable of settling a doe before four months. Still, in a mixed herd, these kids begin carrying on and driving my old buck mad.

Breeding season is officially over. Except Nubians will breed all year and not all of my does are bred. So the buck kids are beginning to blather and carry on every so often. Augustus starts to smell and pace and hang out of his pen. The does start mooning.

High Reaches Valerie's nubian doeling at three months old
This little live wire was born December 3, 2019, and is a bottle baby. Her mother is High Reaches Pixie Valerie, a first freshener who liked her buck kid and ignored this one. The brown spots show signs of turning white. She is very friendly and constantly on the move.

There are seven kids three months old now. Five are little bucks. Two are little does.

Doe kids can get pregnant at four months although they usually wait until they are six months old. That means I have a problem.

There is another side of this problem, a harder one to solve. That one is letting go of all of these seven kids.

Goats have been a major backbone of my life for over forty years. As I grow older, the work becomes harder to keep done. I can no longer sling hay or even stack the three hundred bales I need each year. Mucking out the barn takes longer each spring.

High Reaches Butter's Juliette's Nubian doe kid at three months
High Reaches Butter’s Juliette had this doe and a little buck on November 29, 2019. She is devoted to her mother, but has discovered oats. Now people are her friends, especially when they give her oats. She also thinks standing on my back when I stoop over is fun. She will outgrow this soon with some encouragement.

Even more important is what will happen to my little herd. I have no family who wants them. So all of the kids must be sold. And they are now three months old.

The five buck kids will sell for meat. That leaves the two doe kids.

Both are friendly. One is a bottle baby and the other is an oat connoisseur. One was born the end of November, the other the beginning of December. Both are from good family milkers.

The hardest part of all is watching the doe kids leave knowing, no matter how nice or friendly a kid is, it must be sold to an uncertain future. And more kids are due in March so I get to do this again in July.