Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Respite from Winter

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In my informal polling, EVERYONE is tired of Winter.

(okay, so I really didn't ask that many people...and I certainly didn't interview the snow lovers)

But, the snow has been around FORever.  It's no longer pristine and beautiful.  The huge piles have become grey and ugly...and completely immovable.  And, the forecasters are calling for more.

We really need a break from the cold and a change from the white landscape would be nice, too.  But, since it's just the two of us working here on the hill, we can't just pick up and head to the islands or someplace warm...or even be gone overnight...

The next best thing is a visit the local nursery.

Yesterday while running some other errands, we took a little side-trip to Milmont Greenhouses.  It was such a treat to breathe in the warm, moist air...and the scent of the damp earth.  The bright colors almost hurt our eyes after days and days of squinting against the harsh light reflecting off the snow. Listening to the water fountains was so relaxing...I could have stayed all afternoon.  (but, there were chores to do...)

Just in case the Winter has gotten to you,'s a little dose of Springtime color.

LOVE the water features!

don't know what this one is called
I really like the color!




green orchid

hyacinths almost ready to bloom



sold as shamrocks for St. Patrick's day

cheerful pansies

purple oxalis

Red Geraniums

Isn't this little succulent amazing?

We purchased a couple of pretty plants to brighten up the windowsill and headed back to the hill with a renewed hope that Spring truly is coming. Although, I admit, that is hard to believe when you look at the view.

view of the mountains from the nursery

Think's only 16 days...12 hours...and 52 minutes! (give or take)

 THIS certain brightens up the windowsill!

Hope this brightened your wintry day, too.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 3-1

a week after the big snow
One week closer to Spring!

That’s the thing we’re going to have to focus on here, folks. ‘cause the snow is still here, it’s incredibly cold, and there’s more wintry precipitation in the forecast. (for the better part of the week) Oh, and the garden supply company called to say that the seed potatoes are still snowed in at the warehouse somewhere and won’t arrive for at least two weeks. (so, there’s yet another change in plans)
the gardens are under there

Positive thinking.  That’s about all we got goin’ for us at this point.  ...and icicles...lots and lots of icicles!

Despite the snow that has now become immovable icebergs, the continued threat of winter weather and the very real potential for life-threatening MUD if this stuff melts, there were actually signs of SPRING this week.  And, that’s what’s keeping us going.

The first batch of broiler chicks arrived. Alive!

close-up broiler chicks

 Of course, that is the general idea when you order chicks...that they arrive alive. But, did you know that chicks…day old chicks…come through the mail? The newly hatched chicks are boxed and shipped and arrive within 48 hours.  While this practice has come under fire from some animal rights groups, it is not at all harmful to the chicks.  They are still absorbing the nutrients from their egg and as long as delivery is not delayed, they are perfectly fine when they arrive. They adapt quickly and it is amazing to watch them begin to eat and drink without any instruction.

broiler chicks under the heatlamp in the hover

 My concern this year was the record-setting cold temperatures. This was the first time we had ordered broiler chicks this early in the season.  But, after last year’s difficulties getting chicks from the farm store, (did you read this one?) we decided to order directly (and order extras to cover any transit losses). But, when the orders for the entire year were placed in December, we didn’t count on the incredibly cold temperatures. As I checked the weather again and again (yes, I admit it, I get a little obsessive about the forecasts) things didn’t look good. The overnight lows were predicted to be in the single digits.  While the chicks’ toughness belies their cute and fuzzy appearance, the temperatures were going to be brutally cold, and that’s hard on even adult birds.  But, every single chick in the box was alive when they arrived!  So, here’s a shout-out to the much beleaguered Post Office. THANK YOU!  And, Moyers’ Chicks has been our great poultry supplier for nearly 10 years now, and they are truly the best…a big THANK YOU to them as well!.

8 weeks to fresh chicken for the Market! 

I realize that some folks feel bad about eating the sweet little chicks (and lambs for that matter) but, that is the one purpose in life that these animals have…to provide nourishment for us.  They are well-fed and well-cared for while they are alive and truly appreciated when they make it to the plate.  It won’t be long ‘til these cute and fuzzy babies are big, fat, lazy “eating machines”, growing at an incredibly fast rate.  And, this is not because of added hormones (those are illegal in ALL poultry production) or any questionable inputs.  It is all a matter of good health and breeding…and plenty of feed. This season I plan to document the process from postal delivery to suppertime. In the meantime, you can read this. The question was raised as to the difference between broiler chicks and layer chicks, too.  I guess I'll write about that one as well.

yes, the hover is an old washtub
and the brooder pen is actually  a kiddie pool

The chick’s safe arrival was just one of the sure signs of Spring here on the hill this week.  We just won’t think about the fact that they are living in the shop instead of the brooder (yes, with the lambs…well, not exactly WITH the lambs...they are in their own little pen). Because, yes, the weather IS still keeping a fair amount of farm work from happening. But, we are indeed making some progress.

definitely NOT neat and tidy!
In order to be ready for the growing season, I spent some time cleaning out the shop-greenhouse.  It becomes a real mess when I’m feeling tired and rushed and just basically toss stuff in the door on my way elsewhere.  I keep telling myself I will take the time to be neat and tidy….but…well, let’s face it… I’m just not very neat and tidy.  A little effort and everything is back in order once more and seed-starting can begin in earnest. 
now, that's better!

I even started some peppers!

ice crystals on the greenhouse window
The cold temperatures and gloomy days have really hampered germination.  But, since it’s already two weeks later than I had originally planned, I went ahead and seeded the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage for the early crop.  Soon, I hope to see over 700 little seedlings sprouting! I also started some lettuce and moved all the kale and spinach seedlings to one location in hopes of keeping them warm(er). I was hoping to have them in the hoophouses by now, but…again, the weather is a factor.

that IS ice
on the covers of the seedling trays
ON the heated propagation table.
Definitely COLD!

With five weeks to go until Opening Day of the Market, the hoophouses should be full of growing transplants.  That’s just not the case this year.  There are huge drifts along the sides of the hoophouses and inside they feel like iceboxes (or furnaces once the sun starts reflecting off the snow).  While there are crops surviving in the houses, it certainly isn’t like other years.  New year, new challenges. 

I’m thinking the Market will get off to a slow start this year.

that's me in our spot at the Market on 2-28

Speaking of the Market…we went downtown Saturday to make our deliveries and decided to stop by the Wharf (where the Market is held) to see what it looked like.  If anyone wondered just WHY there’s not a Farmers’ Market in the winter in Staunton…this is just ONE reason. At this point, I am just hoping that this stuff melts by Opening Day!
It would be hard to set up for sale!

or walk down the sidewalk
but even harder to believe that it will look like THIS come April!

And, while I said last week that I wouldn’t be whining about the weather this week…we are under the gun once more with wintry precipitation.  Today is supposed to be sleet and ice. (this can be far worse than snow as power outages and tree damage can be factors) Then, there is the possibility of measurable snowfall AGAIN later in the week.   I’m hoping that this qualifies as “March coming in like a lion” and we will indeed see a big change in the weather by month’s end.


Ellie Mae

But, all things considered…life here on the hill is good.  Everyone and everything is well-fed and well-cared for…there are only 19  days ‘til the official start of Spring…so what more could we want? 
pretty cardinal

snowy lamb

lamb racing - the snow edition

I do hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Thanks for stopping by.  Come back and see us again real soon.
may you be as happy as a Pyr in snow!

While I can't assure you that the snow will have stopped or melted...we will be even closer to SPRING! (hooray)

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Most "Un-Wonderful" Time of the Year

I hate winter.

There. I said it.

While I realize that I just horrified snow lovers and winter sports enthusiasts, and put myself in the same category as Oscar the Grouch and the Grinch. I'm pretty sure I now somehow personify the word curmudgeon even more succinctly than Scrooge at his absolute “scroogiest”. And, I’m almost certain someone will take me to task for my bad attitude.

But…truth is…

I just Hate winter. With a capital “H”.

it looks like Ellie shares my sentiments

Oh, the snow is pretty when it is first falling.

the snow begins

And, the first few cold, clear days are often quite beautiful.

it is pretty!

But, the grinding cold and the relentless winds and the half-melted, re-frozen snow that maintains its icy grip begins to feels like it is eating at my very soul as the days turn into weeks with no real relief in sight. It’s the frozen water buckets and soggy socks, the layers and layers of clothing that must be put on and taken off, the hauling of heavy buckets through the slush and ice…the endless grey skies, the inability to do the work necessary to make a living.

And, while I know that Spring will eventually come to our Valley, first one must survive the Winter.

And, that’s the part most folks miss.  What it takes to survive. The effects of winter weather are far-reaching.  We cannot just sit back and relax and wait for the big thaw. Any losses now will be felt for a long time to come. The work that cannot be done or must be postponed will indeed show up in our “bottom-line” at the end of the year.

When the lovely snowflakes start falling, we don’t have the luxury of staying by the fire, drinking hot cocoa and choosing a new cookie recipe.   There are living beings that are utterly dependent upon us. Winter is quite often truly a battle for survival of the fittest.

Despite the weather, the animals must always have food, water and some sort of shelter.  Severe winter weather is a true test of both our planning abilities and our commitment to our way of life.

feeding the sheep during the storm
the feeders are buried and full of snow

before the sheep can eat, the feeders must be cleared out

There’s no calling out for bad weather…not on the farm.  (no days off…ever)

The threat of a winter storm means that we go into full emergency preparedness mode. The possibility of an extended power outage is very real.   Feed and food---check.  Fuel---check! Batteries and firewood---check.  Water, lamb formula and pet food---check, check and check. Shovels, brooms, gloves and boots stand by the door waiting to see action. Yes! We’re ready. 

The last snow dumped over 15 inches of the white stuff in about the same number of hours.  During that time, the temperature never rose above 20*. That meant that eggs needed to be gathered hourly…and the ice had to be removed from the hens’ waterer. Because on our small farm, a climate-controlled hen house is not an option. (actually…climate-controlled anything is not an option)

clearing the backporch---again
To gather the eggs and check the water, someone needed to gather their own winter clothing and boots, leave the warmth of the house and trek out to the henhouse through the whipping wind and swirling snowflakes, trudging through the ever-deepening drifts. Mission accomplished, the eggs could be stowed safely in the cooler for future sales. (it seemed more than a little ironic that the COOLER was warmer than the temperature outside)  Then return to the house for a slight warming before it was time to do it again.

In addition to the eggs, the bottle lambs needed attention. Bottles must be mixed and delivered three times a day (four for the little babies) regardless of the weather or one’s health and/or inclination.  There are far too many babies (and they are far too large and rambunctious) to bring indoors. So, it’s off to the barn with the box of baby bottles. That is, after suiting up and shoveling the back porch (again).
the animals don't care for bad weather
the hens can't even get out of the henhouse!

We waited and watched the snowflakes fall endlessly throughout the day. We needed to be ready… Because as the last snowflake falls, action must be taken.  Snowblower, tractor and shovels were standing by.  With three foot drifts in places across the farm, it would take a lot of effort to assure future access prior to the re-freeze that is a serious factor following every winter storm.

Did you know that snowblowers are completely ineffective when it comes to icy, compacted snow?  That’s why time is of the essence.
blowing a path to the henhouse
that's as far as the snowblower could go

This particular storm was not kind and ended in the dark of night with rain on top of the snow.  That limited the effectiveness of the snowblower, leaving most of the work to the tractor.  The tractor’s size confined it to the large clearing jobs and delegated the rest of the clearing to the shovel…which must be operated by the “shovelers”.  Lots and lots of physical effort goes into clearing paths to greenhouses and stocktanks.  Did you know that it’s 177 loads with the aluminum grain scoop from the stock tank to the main path?  Yep! I counted.  I was quite proud of my little path…and the dogs seemed to appreciate it, too. That little path is just one of many…there are paths to the both greenhouses, the pullets and the garden hydrant. (the blower did make it to the hens)  It took both of us an hour to dig a path to the the ram paddock out back.

well, that needs shoveling!

a path to the barn hydrant

working on the neighbor's drive

the "somewhat" cleared lane

shoveling to the ram paddock
Gus checking out the new path
made it to the garden hydrant!
the Boss and the neighbor clearing the lane

clearing the driveway

Paths cleared, surely it’s time to take a well-deserved break, right?  Wrong. It’s time to gather eggs, feed babies (again) AND check on the greenhouses.  The bright sun reflecting off the white, white snow causes the temperatures in the greenhouses to soar.  Ventilation must be maintained (so shovel out to get to the doors!) And, water…the little plants need water.  Since all the irrigation infrastructure is frozen (and covered in feet of snow), a bucket and watering can must be utilized.  That means hauling buckets of water over/through the deep snow.

greenhouse door buried in snow

the view out the greenhouse window

It was a pleasure to see the sun and feel warmth once again.  Although as the snow melted, it was obvious that there would be even more work.  ICE is not our friend.  The melting snow causes puddles and pooling everywhere.  The frozen ground cannot absorb it, so as night falls, it freezes where it stands, causing the slight slope down to the barn to become a high-speed luge track, while the shady spot in front of the barn becomes an ideal ice-skating rink. But, skaters and lugers never attempt to carry fifty-pound feedsacks while performing! (I can assure you…that definitely makes for some most interesting moves) Rock salt, kitty litter and gravel all work to give us some sort of traction.
barn before clearing
The slightly melted snowdrifts have now become immovable icebergs, giving way to only the greatest of efforts, or extremely warm temperatures. (neither of which look to be coming in the foreseeable future)  But, the dogs are enjoying romping on TOP of the snow and the huge mounds make for grand observation posts. 
plowed drive

cleared parking area

you can see the whole lane from up here!

As we begin to move on from the snowstorm, another looms on the horizon.  While nothing dire is predicted…this historic snowfall began as a prediction for flurries, leaving everyone in the community more than a little concerned that we are under the gun once more. And we're still slogging through the snow and ice of the last storm (and the snowstorm before that) least the driveway was clear for ONE day!


As we once again check the fuel supply, the feed supply and our battery inventory…

All I can say is

           COME ON, SPRING!

May 2013