Archive for the ‘Around the Farm’ Category

This is poison ivy.


This is a public service announcement from someone who has years of experience with this vine…namely me!!

In short, stay away. Don’t touch. Don’t eat the berries. And in my case, don’t even look at it. The penalty is an insanely itchy rash that will last for weeks and drive you crazy.

I took these photos on our property this afternoon, so this noxious weed is growing now….and lurking….and waiting for the unsuspecting.

Poison Ivy is easily recognizable once you know what to look for. Nothing else looks like it. It can grow in clusters on the ground, or it can climb a tree. We have seen years old vines that have a trunk about 4-5 inches in diameter and have reached the top branches of a 50 foot tree. All parts and phases of the plant are poisonous: the leaves, the stem, and even dead and brittle pieces that you may inadvertently pick up years later can harbor the poison which is an oil called urushiol.

The plant produces black berries in the summer which are very nutritious and harmless to birds, (but highly irritating to humans). The plant is propagated when the birds eat the berries and deposit the seeds in their droppings. Don’t be lulled into thinking that if you stay out of the woods, you will never come into contact with poison ivy. My first run in with the itchy weed was in my backyard in a suburban golf course community. I contracted it while sitting in my flower bed in shorts, pulling weeds. I’ll let your imagination run wild here. It was not a pretty sight.


So what do you need to look for???  Leaves of 3. Not everything with 3 leaves is poison ivy, though. Look at the shape of the leaves. They are irregularly lobed. Some leaves have lobes on both edges, and some leaves will have a smooth edge on one side and have lobes on the other side.

Poison Ivy Hairy vine

When the vines get mature, they will have a characteristic hairiness. “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson”. Whoops, I just gave away my age.

Now on the other hand, this is Virginia Creeper.


Many people mistakenly think this is poison ivy because it is a vine that grows high in trees. This is a harmless plant, and should be admired. In the fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red, and virtually light up their host tree.

Note the obvious difference here. How many leaves? FIVE.

Now here is a photo of a Virginia creeper growing side by side with a poison ivy vine.


The Virginia Creeper is on the left. Note the regularity and uniformity of the leaves. The edge of each leaf is serrated and is a mirror image from side to side.

So if you need a catchy phrase to help you remember how to tell the two apart, trust the age old axiom:

“Leaves of three, let it be.

Leaves of five, let it live ”

Ok. So it doesn’t rhyme. But I bet you remember it, just the same.

Oh, and what should you do if you should come into contact with poison ivy? Wash it off immediately. Dawn soap is great, because it is an oil fighter. And if you don’t know you have touched it until the rash appears? (Usually takes about 24 to 48 hours to manifest the tell tale itch). I swear by Zanfel. The price will take your breath away, but if you start using it as soon as you see the first bump, and scrub with it a couple times a day, it will help. It won’t go away immediately, but it will go away sooner. Think one week instead of three.

So, head on out into the beauty of nature. Just be careful, and enjoy.

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Keep the llamas off the streets. Book a llama hike now!!

pete wasted

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Fame and Fortune!! Well, maybe not so much on the fortune. My Nephew, Kent, Kent Corley Photography, took these photos October 2014, for a Halloween Photo Contest that AKC was running at the time. We didn’t win the contest, but Kent was contacted by the “Daily Mail” in the UK last month and asked permission to publish the photos in an article. I just happened to hit upon this today as I was googling my name. (Yes, I will admit, I do this once and a while). I’m just bustin’ out with pride for my doggie, and for my nephew Kent Corley.

I’m living with an international celebrity. I’m trying to decide whether or not to tell her.

Bayley the Lion


“This dog looks convincing as a lion in a Virginia pet costume contest.
A four-year-old Goldendoodle named Bayley, who lives on a Virginia llama farm, dressed up as a lion for a local costume contest….”

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One of the questions we often get asked is, “Just what do you do with a llama?”
Llamas are wonderfully versatile animals and there are lots of things that people enjoy doing with them.

1. Packing. After all, this is what they were bred to do for thousands of years in South America. The greatest advantage of llamas as packers is their low impact on the environment. Their padded feet do less damage to the trail than people in hiking shoes. They are much smaller than horses or mules with the average pack llama weighing between 300 and 400 pounds. Llamas require much less to drink than most pack stock. Since they are members of the camel family, they are able to obtain much of their water from the foods they eat.

Llamas on the trail

Llamas on the trail

2. Shows. There are llama shows all around the nation where llamas are judged on their fiber and conformation and they can compete in a variety of agility and obstacle courses.

Backing through hay bale maze

Backing through hay bale maze

3. Parades. Who doesn’t love a parade, and everyone loves to see llamas in a parade. We have walked with ours in several Christmas Parades. We dress them up in reindeer antlers and tinsel and they are the hit of the day. They have been real troopers and haven’t been spooked by the High School Bands, fire engines, horses, or dogs. AND I have never had to clean up poop behind them.

Christmas Parade

Christmas Parade

4. Fiber. One of the most prized byproducts of llamas is their fiber. Their fiber can be used to make anything that you can make out of sheep wool. Plus llama hair does not have lanolin and comes in a variety of natural colors.

We shear our llamas once a year, usually in April or May, when the temperatures are above freezing and the highs are in the 70’s. By the time winter comes around again, their coats are grown out enough to keep them warm. Shearing the llamas is an absolute necessity. Heat stress is a major killer for llamas, especially with the heat and humidity in Virginia.

Before and After Shearing

Before and After Shearing

5. Pets. Although we pack with our llamas as a business, they are first and foremost our pets and companions. The time we spend with them brushing and grooming, feeding them, and even cleaning up poop, is very relaxing and enjoyable. We talk with them and watch as they interact with each other. Llamas can be very entertaining and affectionate in their own way.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

Oooo! The water tickles my tongue.

6. Therapy animals. Llamas are often taken to nursing homes and children’s hospitals to brighten the day and bring a smile. Llamas are intuitive and seem to sense the needs of others. They are very calm and gentle animals.

7. Guardians. Llamas make good livestock guards. They prefer to be with their own species, but they will adopt and bond with their new herdmates, be it sheep, alpacas, or cows. They are very protective against coyotes, wild dogs, and other predators.

8. Golfing. Believe it or not, there are golf courses that use llamas as caddies. I’m not much of a golfer myself, but I could get into the game if I could walk the course with a llama.

9. Carting. Llamas can also be trained to pull a cart. They can be used singly or as a team. I expect that it would take a good bit of time and patience to master this skill, but I can only imagine the attention that you would get driving your llama through the park.

10. Walking and jogging. Sometimes I want a change of pace from walking the dogs. I halter one of the llamas and take a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. The llamas are very curious and attentive, and it is entertaining just to watch them as they observe the interesting things along the way.

Taking a stroll with Domino

Taking a stroll with Domino

So you see, llamas can be much more than just a pasture ornament, though that is one of the greatest pleasures that they give to me. There is no better feeling than to gaze down on the fields, no matter the season, and watch the llamas as they bask in the sun, roll in the dust, munch grass, hike through the snow, or pronk around the fence in expression of the sheer joy of life. So, what do YOU do with a llama?

Taking a dust bath

Taking a dust bath

Dreaming of spring

Dreaming of spring

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Now, I know you are going to say that I’m one egg short of a dozen, but I recently saw, in one of my farm publications, an article about nest box curtains. The photos were adorable, and I thought, if for nothing else, my young hens needed a home improvement project.

Before embarking on this undertaking, I decided to do a little research to hopefully find a design that didn’t involve sewing. I used to sew…..somewhat. I had a basic cabinet machine that my Mom had bought when I was just a kid. Granted it was ugly, it only did straight stitching, and it took up floor space, which we were always in short supply of. But it was always there…always up and ready to go. If I needed to repair a 1 inch seam…zoom, it was done.

About 20 years ago, my sweet road warrior surprised me for Christmas with a new portable machine that could be packed up and stored out of sight and could do zigzag stitches and button holes. We were living in Italy at the time, so when we were ready to pack out and return to the states, I gave the old cabinet machine to my Pilipino housemaid. The portable machine now sits in the back of a closet, behind rolls of Christmas wrap and boxes of shoes, and gathers dust bunnies. It’s too much trouble to dig out and set up, so it hasn’t been used in years. I have forgotten how to sew. So… back to the chicken curtains.

Who knew that the idea of curtains for the chickens nest boxes has been around for decades, maybe centuries? Old time farmers used to tack up old gunny sacks over the nest box openings to provide the hens with privacy. Chickens apparently prefer to lay their eggs in a dark and secluded space, hence, a good excuse to hang some jazzy curtains.

The coop BC (Before Curtains)

The coop BC (Before Curtains)

There are lots of gorgeous coop curtains out there. Just google it, if you are interested in seeing more ideas. Many talented ladies make curtains with tie backs. Personally, that would have been my preference, but definitely involved more sewing skills than I wanted to resurrect. Then I saw some that were just straight valances….nothing more involved than sewing a rod pocket and a hem. But, it did involve digging out the dreaded machine and spending more time setting it up than the time it would take to do the whole sewing thing.

So I opted to find a readymade valance. Just by chance, I found a wonderful lady on Etsy that makes custom curtains, and she made these cute valances for me. I love the comical chicken design, and the colors were just perfect to brighten up the place.

Ready to move beck in

Ready to move beck in

I can’t say for sure whether the chickens approve, they haven’t started laying eggs yet, but it sure makes me smile while I’m scooping out chicken poop.

The Pullet Palace

The Pullet Palace

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Wylie Wisteria

17 years ago, this month, we bought a wisteria vine and planted it next to a tree in front of the house. Year after year we waited for it to bloom. Year after year Tim vowed to trim it back.

“I’m going to build an archway between the trees and train the wisteria on it.”

“I’m going to stress it and cut it back hard to force it to bloom.”

“The vine is taking over the tree. It’s going to eventually kill it.”

Year after year, I defended the vine and told Tim to be patient.

This year, when the threats started again, I caved.

Just last week, Tim said he was tired of the vine and wanted to get rid of it. It was never going to bloom and it was all the way to the top of the tree. I said I was tired of his complaining, and he could do whatever he wanted. I only requested that he cut it before it fully leafed out so we didn’t end up with ugly, dead vine hanging on the tree all summer.

And Voila! The next day, the wisteria bloomed for the first time ever. Stay of execution.

Wisteria in bloom edit

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Everything is all about balance. Or so it seems when you think about all the ways the word is used in the English language.

“His life hangs in the balance.”
“We have to balance the good against the bad.”
“Don’t worry, things will balance out in the end.”
We balance the books; we get caught off balance; our government is a system of checks and balances; we should eat a balanced diet; …..to name just a few.

But to our peacock, Farina, balance is more physical than figurative.

For a quick summation, Farina escaped his coop 18 months ago, got lost for 6 months and suddenly reappeared last summer. He has become an outdoor bird, but has totally wormed his way into our hearts. We have been struggling with ways to feed him without the squirrels, crows, raccoons, and bears getting to the food first.

We were actually relieved when Farina learned to eat out of the squirrel proof bird feeder that hangs off our 2nd level deck rail. He comes morning and evening for a snack of nuts and sunflower seeds. The rest of the day he is grazing on grasses and bugs.

Farina at bird feeder

At the time of this photo he had his full 4 foot tail. Don’t be fooled by the idiom “light as a feather”. When you’re dragging around approximately two hundred 48 inch long feathers, it ain’t light. But he has learned very well to compensate for the weight of the ballast and use it to help him balance on narrow perches.

Peacocks shed all of these feathers each year right after the end of mating season. And when the molting starts, it only takes about three days for them to drop every one of those feathers. This happened over the weekend.


Apparently, it is going to take a few days to adjust to a new center of gravity. We were entertained for an hour yesterday evening as Farina struggled to keep from falling off the rail everytime he leaned over to get a nibble. Watch his comical antics as he flairs his nubby little tail to try to keep from toppling off.

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