Monday, January 29, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 203

 We’ve had a very warm spell the past week or so, with two big rains and days of gray skies, which followed a very cold spell for nearly two weeks before that. Now we’re shifting back to fairly normal winter weather for us, with highs in the low 50s and nights in the low 30s. I’ll take it. 

I’ve been busy planting a batch of natives I got in January right before the cold snap. They all had to live in the garage for a week until we got to the rainy warm spell, and once the rain stopped, the ground was perfect for digging and planting six viburnums (three different species) into the front fence native mixed hedge area. I also put in 25 elderberry live stakes and a few garden bed plantings. Right now I have one winterberry holly that needs to go into the ground and then I am done with planting for this season. 

We’ve also been moving large stones from our mother-in-law cottage to the farm, little by little, in two different dry creek bed areas. This will take awhile to complete but hopefully by mid-spring we’re done with it.

Yesterday I worked on getting butterfly bushes out of the upper pollinator bed. We took out the grandfather butterfly bush last year and it is trying to come back. Thankfully the five volunteers weren’t too hard to remove. I’ll be doing a major weeding out of that upper bed this spring, as it’s gotten overgrown with both non-native invaders and some unruly goldenrod, which I like, but it has taken over. I’ll be removing as many of the goldenrod as I can this spring and moving them to an area where they can go wild without crowding my small bed. I have a spot in Arcadia that is perfect for them. 

We’re all hanging in there in general here. I’ve started a new novel, quite unintentionally, and have been enjoying my near daily writing sessions with it. Continuing my interior painting projects slowly but surely, and we got the new barn windows installed - now need to paint the barn with the remaining exterior house paint. That’s a job that requires the right weather, so it’s on hold for right now.

Meanwhile, a certain family member turned 5 years old!

Happy birthday, our darling Clementine! 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 91: blackhaw

 Viburnum prunifolium is a wonderful native shrub that offers many wildlife and pollinator benefits as well as erosion control and fall color. 

I’m in the process of adding three species of viburnum staggered along our front fencing, between the southern bayberries already thriving there. My goal is to created a mixed native hedge that supports wildlife, offers screening, and enhances the beautiful view from our front porch. 

By staggering three species I’ll broaden the wildlife and insect support while getting a consistent visual look across the length of the hedge, especially during bloom times. 

For the horses, it offers a layer of privacy and some sound protection from passing cars and people. 

Friday, January 26, 2024

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 90: marsh rattlesnake master

 I’ve loved another native species of rattlesnake master since the year I added it to my very first native pollinator bed. It has done beautifully there and is one of my favorite plants. 

This marsh species is beautiful to me because I love the lavender color of the flowers and I’ve added it to a new bed in the barnyard. It’s not the ideal marshy setting this plant loves, but often enough, natives can do well in less than ideal conditions. I’ve planted five and will keep them well watered to see if they can take off where I’ve put them. 

I’m going to have some new plants to track this spring - stay tuned for updates. 

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 89: poke milkweed

 Asclepias exaltata is a beautiful and not easy to find species of milkweed that does well in part shade and has a wonderful nodding quality to it thanks to the flowers dangling on stems. When I looked for rarer natives to honor Keil Bay and Salina in their partly shady resting place I discovered this and actually found it in a nursery about an hour away. 

I’ve planted these and am so eager to see them come up this spring. 

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 88: Sweetleaf, aka Horse Sugar

 Symplocos tinctoria is a native to NC (and other states, check yours to be sure) semi-evergreen shrub that does well in part shade, has leaves that taste sweet, hence the common names, and has lovely flowers that offer forage for pollinators. It’s also the host plant for King’s hairstreak butterflies. 

This is one of the plants I chose and have planted on Keil Bay’s and Salina’s gravesites. I’m excited to see it grow and to know that both my dear equine friends will appreciate the sweet leaves of this lovely plant. 

Salina famously stole sunflowers from my garden and ran with them, and Keil was also famously known for his love of honeysuckle. It makes me happy to see this growing in the place both have been laid to rest here on the farm. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

November Hill farm journal, 202 (the herd moves on)


As we closed out 2023 a number of little things happened and then one big thing to mark this passage. The little things: we had a relatively quiet new year’s eve with not much noise, which made me very happy. On the early morning of the new year, I was out with Baloo when I noticed the birds were singing madly on the farm. A week before I had bemoaned never seeing a northern flicker in my life. The patterns of their feathering and colors make me smile (in pictures!) and I wished to see one. As the birds chorused I turned on my Cornell bird sound app and in seconds had this reading:

The northern flicker was calling from one of two oaks in the front pasture. While I couldn’t locate the bird visually, I now know they are on the farm and I will be sure to listen and look in the days to come. What a gift it will be if I catch a glimpse!

The big thing happened yesterday mid-morning when I glanced out the back window after my daughter said that both Cody and Apache Moon were rolling at the same time. Always on the alert for trouble, I thought colic, then biting insects, neither of which were likely. By the time I glanced out, they were both up on all fours again, and then Cody laid back down to roll. He went all the way over, back and forth, as if giving his back a good scratch, and then leaped up with two double-barrel bucks and his characteristic “let’s play” head toss. When Apache didn’t respond, Cody walked up to him and they touched muzzles. Cody rarely approaches Apache face to face like this - they have their infamous over the fence tag game they play regularly, but the pony has always reigned superior over Cody and the past two weeks he’s been very bossy, moving Cody away from hay piles or even just moving him for no good reason. 

I speculated that Apache was making a play to be herd leader. But yesterday morning Cody turned the tables on Apache, not backing down, not being aggressive, but being very forward about his ability to be in Apache’s space without being moved. 

For several minutes they stood there and it looked exactly like they were having a discussion. There was gesturing with heads and muzzles and neither moved their hooves an inch. Then suddenly they shared breath and then Cody went off into a huge floating trot that turned to a slow gallop in a large circle, tossing his head and soon joined by the pony. 

They trotted, they galloped, they did levade, they spun on hind hooves, they cantered along the dirt paddock and back out again. It was a play session in the order of the ones they usually have, the very first I’ve seen since Keil Bay passed away. 

I do not know how they know it’s the start of a new year or that it means something to humans, but there is no doubt in my mind that this herd has made the decision to move on, to reform, to get back to their routine of grazing together, sleeping together, rolling together, playing together. And they are dealing with the question of herd order and how that will proceed. 

I’m so relieved and so grateful that they helped start 2024 off on such a beautiful note.