Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Pins and Needles

I’ve been worrying a lot lately. 
(the Boss says I always worry a lot, but…) 

The weather has been causing more than its fair share of concern and extra work. I’m beginning to think that winter might never really end.

The winter weather just won’t release us from its icy grasp.  We’ll have a few nice days, get all excited…and then, bang…back to unseasonably cold. It’s not just here…the endless winter has enveloped the nation. 

Mark my words, all the weather issues are going to have far-reaching effects on all sorts of things.  
Particularly the food supply.

While this might sound like I’m just doing more than my fair share of complaining…it’s far more than that. 

The weather affects absolutely everything we do here on the hill…and ultimately, the weather (and our ability to adapt) will dictate our success or failure.  Making your living from the land is risky business.  Every decision has the possibility of being all or nothing. Farming is the biggest gamble out there.  The rewards can be great, but the possibility of loss and ruin is even greater. And, there are never any guarantees.

Ordinarily, cold temperatures can be countered by covering new plantings.  Row cover (sheets, blankets, buckets or overturned flower pots) will grant some protection and a few degrees of warmth.  But, sometimes these options fail us.

Rain on the hill...clearing across the way

The wind howled long into the night.
Prior to this particular cold snap, we had torrential rains combined with gusty winds, so the row cover wasn’t an option.   Ever try to place row cover in the wind? Not only is it a frustrating affair, the flapping cover can actually do more damage to the young plants as the wind whips it around. It was our concern that by attempting to place the cover in the rain and allowing the soaking wet cover to freeze onto the plants, the risk for loss would be even greater.

  So…we didn’t…and I’m worried.

you can't SEE wind, but trust's BLOWING!

The temperature continued to fall.
clearing skies allow for dropping temperatures

We worried. We prayed. …and we left it in God’s hands.

I woke at 3:30am and the temperature was 26* (and steady).  By now, the wind had died down somewhat, the sky was clear and the moon was bright.  I must say, there was a great temptation to go out and cover stuff up, despite the time. It wouldn’t be the first time I had been out in the garden in the middle of the night.  But, I’m pretty sure that this wouldn’t help much at this point…the row cover can only retain the warmth of the ground, which was already cold and very wet…so I restrained myself.

The crops that we plant this time of year can withstand a great deal of cold.  It’s generally accepted that as long as the temperature is above 20*, the newly planted onions will survive.  We have seen broccoli/cauliflower/cabbage take similar temperatures with little loss.  Despite the setback from the cold, the plants will generally recover and produce. (did you read this one about lettuce?)  However, that doesn’t keep me from worrying.  A total crop loss would be more than a little costly.  And, it’s frustrating to lose something in which you’re deeply and personally vested. But, you go on. 

Despite what anyone might think, we have no safety net for crop failure. Crop insurance isn’t an option for an operation of our size. A loss is just a loss, plain and simple, and we would only hope that we could make it up with another crop later in the season. But, again…no guarantees.

We also cannot wait until later (when the weather is warmer) to plant.  By waiting until later in the season to plant, we run the risk of running out of time for the crop to mature enough in time for harvest. There are also the weather risks of summer…thunderstorms, hail, drought.  Like I said…it’s always a gamble…a very real gamble.


I’m on pins and needles until daylight when we can assess the damage and see if we need to make any preparations for what promises to be another cold, cold night.

pretty sure there won't be many (if any) peaches/nectarines this year

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 4-13

Another week has slipped by and made its way into farm history. ...and here are just a few of the noteworthy happenings from the hill.

The broccoli survived the cold. …and the rowcover didn’t end up in Timbuktu. It looks like the rowcover won’t get stored away quite yet, though.  There’s cold and snow in the forecast again for the midweek. (seriously)

This doesn't look good!
Despite what looked like a dire situation (twice) the Boss finally got the Gravely running once again. We both felt a big sense of relief over that one and it looks like we will get another season out of the geriatric machine after all.  It might not sound like a big deal that the little mower didn’t work, but with today’s focus on huge mowers, it is increasingly hard to find something small enough to cut the grass between the garden beds.  Our incredibly hilly terrain doesn’t allow for big, flat fields for vegetable planting, so we have lots of small beds with grass in between.  Good for the environment (no erosion) bad for mower choices.  So, we’ll be hoping that the little mower will keep on mowing without too many difficulties this season.
fingers crossed that it keeps running

After a check on the perimeter fences and a little bit of repair, the sheep finally left the barnlot and went out to somewhat greener pastures.

 This year, there was no joyous cavorting.  After a moment of running about, they simply put their heads down and ate their way across the paddock.  …and ate back the other way…all day long.  We got them out just in time, too…we have 9 bales of hay left in the barn!

the sheep are still coming back to the barn for feeding
and for the night

look close and you'll see thousands of little onion plants
The onions got planted!  Incredibly, we were only one day behind schedule on that job.  

…and since toughchick stopped by, we had some extra help. It seems that I might have forgotten to tell her we had a big job planned for the day of her visit.  But, as a former farm-kid, she knows that if the old folks are workin’, you gotta pitch in and help. (we did give her lunch…’cause we’re just nice that way)  Thanks for the help, kiddo!
helpin' the old folks plant onions

might not look like much now...
just wait!

The countdown to the big, sweet onions of summer has begun.

The spring batch of layer chicks arrived and have settled into the re-purposed henhouse turned brooder.   We lost a number of little girls just after they arrived.  I suppose they got chilled in transit.  Hopefully, the remaining chicks will do well and in just 5 months, these little girls will join the laying flock in the henhouse. 
broiler batch #2 - 1 week

broiler batch #1 - 5 weeks

The hoophouse crops are growing well, and our customers were happy to see that our mixed lettuce had joined the produce line-up at the Market once more.  More seeding and planting continues to be the routine.
first lettuce of 2014

Last week for the Claytonia
(the ladybug was a bonus)

With an eye on the weather, we will be chopping seed potatoes sometime today in hopes of planting them tomorrow.  It will be a race to beat the rain, snow and cold weather that is coming in Monday afternoon/night. Maybe we can get some beans in the ground, too.  I was tempted to plant out some squash and cucumber seedlings, but I think I’ll wait a little longer.

kinda hated to leave the hill on such a pretty morning
We had another beautiful day for Market.  With Staunton’s Earth Day celebration in full swing, the downtown area was a vibrant, active place…lots of people and activities.

In other odd and random news...

Gus was caught having a "picnic" in the orchard.  Don't worry, he didn't eat the chicks.  He did, however, take the box out of the burn pit and rip it to smithereens.  We're trying to remember...he's a puppy....he's a puppy...

A large portion of Mbrook Road was freshly paved this week, making for an incredibly smooth trip to town. Paving might not sound like a big deal, but Mbrook Road the only way to go ...well...anywhere, so we're grateful that job is completed for another decade or so.

And, here's a reminder why it is not common practice to do ram pedicures alone, before breakfast. 
Ye-ouch! It looks worse than it really was once it was cleaned and bandaged.  And, thanks to the Boss, we tag-teamed Waylon and got the clods out of his hooves. Can't have a limping ram!

It looks like the bluebirds are nesting near the garden again.  Mr. Bluebird has been spotted nearly every morning. The missus is a little more elusive.

...and here's hoping that the apple blossoms (and the peaches, too) can withstand the upcoming cold weather.


Have a very Happy Sunday!

sunrise over Mbrook

Thanks for stopping by!  Come back and visit again soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Grins along the Way - A Thursday Thankful

It rained on Monday.

It rained a whole lot on Monday. We got well over 5/8 inch of rain in a short amount of time.

all the transplants survived and seem to be thriving

The broccoli plants benefited greatly from the moisture, as would the grazing paddocks.  All the rain made the dogs incredibly “photogenic”.  And you know…”April showers bring May flowers”…and all that jazz.
Ironically, April showers make for one DIRTY farm dog!

But, the rain played havoc with our well-planned week. And, if you know me at all, you know I really don’t like my plans changed…but roll with it…right?

When the rain let up (some) at midday, we headed out for a much-needed run to the dump.  While the dump run was needed, it certainly wasn’t in the plan.  But, then again…roll with it (right?) We could get another errand out of the way after the dump, so the day wouldn’t be a complete wash.

If it wasn’t for the rain, or the change in plans, we wouldn’t have gone to the dump on a gloomy, rainy Monday afternoon….and we wouldn’t have seen this.

I don’t know about you, but the sight of a somewhat forlorn, dripping wet jack-o-lantern wearing a Santa hat at the dump just made me laugh out loud.  I wasn’t alone, the other folks depositing trash made comments, too.

I’m thankful for 
the odd and random amusements that come along when I least expect them.

So, today…here’s to finding some grins along the way.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I'm So EGGS-cited!


Eggs are always abundant in the Spring.  Eggs are also one thing that everyone seems to identify with farms and Farmers’ Markets.  You can find big eggs, little eggs, chicken eggs, duck eggs, quail eggs…even colored eggs.  (The Staunton Market used to have a vendor who sold Ostrich eggs!)

It’s a regular Spring “egg-stravaganza”! (sorry)

But, there is a down-side to all these wonderful FRESH eggs.

Fresh eggs are notoriously hard to peel.  As in…no can do…not neatly anyway.

As an egg ages, it dehydrates slightly. This makes a little separation between the shell and the membrane and the egg will peel easily.  So, the common recommendation is to buy eggs in advance and let them “age” prior to boiling.  Someone invariably forgets and uses the “aging” eggs for other purposes, aggravating the cook. (not that I would know about that aggravation or anything)

You can leave them on the counter for a couple of days to speed up the "aging" process, but when I give that advice, customers tend to freak out just a little. (Although,I have been told that they never refrigerate eggs in Europe.)

But, all this aging calls for some advance planning which isn’t always convenient or practical.

There had to be an answer.

Over the years, I think I’ve tried a lot of different methods.  Hot water, cold water, salt in the water, soda in the water, even vinegar, no luck. I boiled them hard, boiled them gently, pot lid on…pot lid off.  It didn’t seem to matter, I was still digging the eggs out of their shells with a spoon, muttering under my breath. I just can’t stand misshapen, ugly deviled eggs!

I must admit, I have not tried the current fad of baking eggs in a muffin tin. I can only imagine an explosive outcome on that one, and cleaning the remains of egg bombs out of my oven doesn’t sound appealing.  (I have a similar fear of microwaved eggs)

Last week, I was reading one the many blogs I follow and she was describing her attempt to re-create deep-fried deviled eggs.  (can I just say….ewwww…?)  The whole fascination with deep-frying everything (oreos, pickles, butter--?) escapes me.  However…

She had a new way to boil eggs.  Maybe it’s not new, but I hadn’t tried this one.

So, I did.  And it worked. Every. Single. Time.  Even with really fresh eggs.  Really fresh as in the Boss just got them from the henhouse fresh!

I’m not sure why this works and the other ways I’ve tried didn’t (consistently)…but, it does.  And, the eggs don’t have that dark ring around the yolk that they sometimes get when you boil them too hard. The yolks stay pretty, which is very important when making devilled eggs, or even egg salad (and these made some delicious egg salad!)  

I’m so EGGS-cited! (sorry, I did it again) I needed to share it with you.  

Our customers will be happy to learn this one, too.

To make the hard-boiled eggs:
For a dozen deviled eggs, you’ll need six hard-boiled eggs. Before boiling, bring eggs to room temperature. To make perfect, incredibly easy to peel hard-boiled eggs, bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Add a dash of salt then gently lower the eggs into the boiling water with a slotted spoon.
Replace the lid and boil hard for 14 minutes. Drain and place immediately in cold water. Ice water is even better.
Lightly crack each egg all over then gently roll it between your hands. The eggs will practically leap out of the shells on their own, leaving the most perfect hard-boiled eggs you’ve ever seen.
Rinse the eggs in cold water to make sure you didn’t leave even the tiniest bit of shell on the eggs then allow the eggs to cool thoroughly before slicing. You want to be sure they are chilled all the way to the center. Pop them in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour. Eggs slice much more cleanly when they’re cold. Once chilled, slice eggs lengthwise with a smooth-bladed knife. Squeeze gently to pop out the yolks and you’re ready to make deviled eggs.

Now…you’ll have to try it.  I hope that you will be “eggs-cited”, too!

For the full post about deep-fried deviled eggs, visit  Chickens in the Road.

Hey...I shared this over at the Tales of A Kansas Farm Mom.  She's hosting a County Fair Blog Party.  Check it out!  Kansas Farm Mom County Fair Blog Party

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 4-6

Wow!  This seemed like an incredibly short and speedy week.  It also seemed incredibly busy.  Maybe that’s why it went by so quickly.
The view of Mbrook is greening up!

If you read  this entry you know that Spring has most definitely SPRUNG here on the hill and we’re racing around trying to keep up.

That entry just took us to Wednesday…but, the work just kept coming.  In addition to the everyday routine, Market prep added a fair amount as we inventoried our lamb products, stocked the freezer and re-wrote our lamb and farm brochures.  The greenhouses and hoophouses got some much needed attention as we planted and harvested.
good selection of lamb for Market freezer

The Boss got the back garden plowed in anticipation of the much delayed potato planting.  It looks like that will be delayed even longer as rain is predicted early in the upcoming week and the onions are first priority. All those little onion plant are still sitting in the shop, awaiting their re-homing in the gardens.  The tilling of the back garden is on hold for now.  It seems like there are never enough dry hours in the day…or energy…
Some of the thousands of onion plants awaiting planting

I get the FUN jobs!

                                                      In one of my more “interesting” jobs this week, I had the “privilege” of steering as the Boss towed the small garden tractor to the shop for some diagnostic work. It’s never a good thing when equipment will not move…or even start!  It remains to be seen if the repair will be fairly simple. I’m just hoping it won’t cost $5,000+ like the replacement he considered!
Broiler batch #1 moved out to pasture so that broiler batch #2 could move into the brooder.  

The transition went quite smoothly and we are only about 3 weeks away from fresh chicken for the Market!

my trip to the Market is a beautiful drive into the sunrise
And speaking of the Market…what a beautiful Opening Day! Visit the Market's Facebook page to see the Boss' photos from this week. Despite the chilly wind, the customers came out in droves.  It was great to get back into the rhythm of the season and catch up with old friends. What produce we had didn’t last long as it seems everyone is craving fresh greens after the long and dismal winter. But, the crops in the hoophouses are looking good and we should have more (and more) produce as the season progresses.
Opening Day 2014
slim pickin's

Row cover will grant some protection to the young plants

With an eye on the weather (again), we were out at dusk after the Market, gently placing row cover over the broccoli plants as the temperature was predicted to drop below freezing for an extended period of time.  While this was over-kill on our part (the broccoli can withstand some pretty cold temperatures) it allowed us to sleep better knowing that we’d done all we could to protect the crop. Good thing…it was 28* at dawn. Guess one of our jobs in the upcoming week will be picking up the row cover and storing it away for a while.
We left a row uncovered as an experiment
We'll have to wait and see how they fared

Since it’s Sunday…we’ll get the bare essentials done...take it a little slower as we re-charge and re-group as we get ready for another week of Spring. If you think about it, pray the rains hold off so we can get our planting done soon.

Yes, I am gonna put my feet up for a while
Thanks to Blondie for the cool sheep socks!

Thanks for stopping by!

Have a    Happy Sunday!

…and come back and visit us here on the hill real soon.