Thursday, October 23, 2014

October Drama

After days of gloom and rain, it was SO nice to see the sun.  We didn't even mind the "breezy" conditions. When the weatherman says "breeezy", he means gale force winds here on the hill. You can almost tell just how windy it will be by how drawn out the word "breeeeeeezy" is in the forecast. (no kidding)

There's a Nor'easter off the coast somewhere, far too far North and East to give us any precipitation, but we are getting the wind and some very dramatic skies as the clouds race by, playing with the lengthening shadows and the fall colors.

So, without further ado, here's a little of the October drama that we are privy to here on the hill during the past couple of days.

Pretty, huh?

...and since it's Thursday, let me say I'm thankful.  Thankful that these are the views where I live and work. Thankful I get to look at scenes like this all the time.  And, very thankful that it's only the sky providing any drama in my life right now.

Have a wonderful Thursday, y'all!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 10-19

after the rains there are mushrooms everywhere!

You know the expression “better be careful what you wish for…you might just get it!” ?  Well, I can attest to the truth of the statement.

The Boss has been saying we needed a week of rain for weeks, no…months.  We finally got it. Oh boy, we got it. Since October 3rd, we have had nearly 5 inches of rain.  That’s more than the months of July, August and September combined!  (you could even add part of June!) While we really needed the moisture, I must admit…I was beginning to feel like Mrs. Noah.  And, the rain and subsequent mud totally changed our plans for the week.  But…whatcha gonna do? Just re-work the plan.  We'll try again this week to get all of last week's outdoor work done!

Monday’s soggy weather didn’t interfere with our trip to pick up the lamb chops. This batch is particularly delicious looking (but, I say that every time). 

not a pretty day for a road trip

I may have disturbed more than one person when I pointed out that there were cool, quiet lambs in the back of my vehicle on the return trip. Sorry about that.

this is how we haul lambs in my car
However, this is supposed to be the destiny of the lambs raised here on the hill.  They are meant to be lamb chops. Very delicious lamb chops.  But, I can assure everyone that they are treated with care from farm to freezer. Not only do we treat them well here on the hill, our processing company has won awards for their practices. All this effort makes for some very tasty meat.

By Tuesday/Wednesday, the rains were torrential.  But, that gave me a chance to make some headway on the sales receipts and clear some of the mountain of paperwork off my desk.  I still have “miles to go before I sleep” (not that I’m really giving up sleeping, but you get the picture). At least I can see the top of my desk again (in places anyway).

The moisture is wonderful, but there is a down-side. All the dark, rainy days dramatically slowed growth in the hoophouses. Since the temperatures are cooling and the shadows are lengthening, it seemed the perfect time to get the shadecloth off of the hoophouses. Usually we wait a little longer for this annual event and you should READ THIS to understand the importance of this activity.  But no time like the present…  Hopefully everything will start growing better with more light. Now, we will just have to keep an eye on the daytime temperatures and make sure everything stays well-watered.

the "before" shot

ready to remove the shadecloth

the Boss spends a lot of time
"waitin' on a woman"

pulling off the shadecloth

shadecloth removed

folding the shadecloth for storage

hauling the shadecloth

the hoophouse looks brighter already

Here's a story my kids will appreciate. (they think mama's just a little "tetched") 

In between rain storms the dogs started barking furiously at something across the road.  There was obviously something over there, you could see it moving about in the middle of the big open field. 

See the white thing in the middle of that field?
The dogs were doing their "alert, alert" bark

 Having recently seen the eagle, I was hoping for another sighting.  However, it was too far away to see clearly, so I got my camera.  Zooming in didn't help much.  Eighty shots later and some serious cropping on the computer and it became clear that it was a BALLOON! ...and the dogs were still barking at it. 
Nope, no bird
Definitely a balloon
Yes, I had been balloon-watching. Sad, but true.  I'm not a big fan of balloons. When balloons escape, or are released, they become a hazard to farm animals and wildlife. We once found one in the front field that had floated here from the other side of West Virginia! But, enough about balloons. And, yes, I realize that this story does serve as evidence to my total lack of productivity.

The Boss only got to one of his many jobs before the rains started.  But, thankfully it was the brooder job. And he got done. Just. In. Time. It began raining just as he got done. But he did indeed finish. Our brooder is the true embodiment of “Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle” (and will be a part of the November blogging challenge--- check this out) This new incarnation is pretty cool and I was so glad he got it done and was ready when the Post Office called on Friday.

When I got to the Post Office, my first thought was that I wouldn’t be able to park because someone must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
the truck is bigger than the Post Office
no, really!
 (the Boss’ suggestion would have been take a couple left turns, come on up the hill and put that load in the cooler!) However, the general store probably wouldn’t have appreciated that. Yes, there is a tiny store in Mbrook.  It sells essentials and sandwiches and pizza. And, if the Heineken truck is any indication, they must sell beer, too. (I’ve only been there to buy ice in an “emergency” situations)  Beer trucks aside, I picked up the chicks and took them home to the newly re-furbished brooder. 
chicks in a box

layer chick
isn't she CUTE?

They were all cold and sleepy and didn’t fuss too much as I gave them a drink and tucked them under the hover with the help of my ever-watchful assistant.
Helper Gus on chick patrol
Gus attempted to climb in the brooder along with me. He is such a help! (not)  He didn’t bother anything and even saved one chick from falling out the door.  With all the chicks accounted for, I closed the door to allow the warmth to build. A short time later, the brooder was a flurry of activity as little chicks scratched and ate and fluttered all around. While it may seem hard to believe, these little girls will start laying eggs just in time for the 2015 Market!
getting warm under the hover

And, just like that…it was time to prep for Saturday’s Market again. The weeks are getting progressively shorter, I am sure. I heard somewhere that this sensation is a true indicator of old-age…but, let’s not even go there.

looking back as I pulled out of the drive at 6:30am
the lights are the house, the brooder and Mbrook
It was DARK and breezy at opening time. A lot of vendors were missing. You can tell it's late in the season when only the die-hard vendors show up on a regular basis. There are fewer late season customers too, since the draw of sweet corn and vine-ripened tomatoes is a thing of the past. (reminder to townsfolk: the Market runs until the week before T'giving!) But, once the sun came up and the townspeople got going with their day, the traffic at the Market picked up. There was music, too, and that always makes the Market better.  This week we had a new performer who played great guitar and had an amazing voice (other performers even said so).  Here’s hoping the Boss can get him back for next season.
at 7am opening
boy, am I glad for that street light!

it's looking a little sparse at the Market

the sunrise lit up the trees at the Market

Despite the dark start and the chilly breeze, it was another great Market.  Thanks, Staunton!
 the end of the Market day

And, that my friends, was the week on the hill.

Hope you're having a Happy Sunday!

glorious weather after the rains

Thanks for stopping by for our little weekly visit.  Please come back again soon!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Has It Really Been Five Years?

Five years ago today I sat down at the keyboard and started a blog.  

It was a sad little start.  You can read it  HERE. See? I was right. It was downright pathetic! And, no, I don't know how I had time to be at the computer in the middle of a Friday morning. It seems like I should have been harvesting something for Market.

I had no idea what I was doing…or how to do it.  I didn’t know how to include pictures or video, but I really wanted to learn. I really thought I had something to say.  Our life here on the hill is unique and gives us a different perspective. 

I had read a number of other farm blogs and thought it would be interesting to chronicle the happenings of Homestead Hill.  You know, for posterity.  For future generations.  Maybe somebody would even read it!

The farm - October 2009

There have been a lot of changes here on the hill in the past five years, although many of them might go undetected by the untrained eye. But even more things have changed in my approach to blogging and social media.

I have learned a whole lot of things about blogging (and writing, too).   I can actually post pictures withOUT re-writing code. (yeah, I really did it that way for a while)  I’ve chronicled a lot of stuff.  And, I’ve glossed over even more. Good things, bad things, the same things over and over and over.  Just a day in the life kind of stuff. If nothing else, it’s interesting to look back at what we’ve done and what I’ve thought and see just how we have evolved over the years.
back in '09
hoophouse #2 was finally getting finished

Five years…

You might think by now that I have a really big blog. I don’t.

With lots of followers. Nope. 

And, there are those who think that blogging pays. Well, wrong again.  Never made a dime.

Certainly I’d like to have an impact.  I’d really like to know that folks read the words I write. And, yes, I would like to make money…definitely.
Today, after countless battles with the groundhog
hoophouse #2 is very productive

But, for now, that’s not the way this is working out.  And, I’m okay with that (sort of).  Because, ultimately I write to chronicle the day in the life kind of stuff so that those who do read can see what life is like on the farm and begin to KNOW a FARMER and KNOW their FOOD.  By putting a face on a producer (even a small one) the distance between the farm and the plate is shortened. The mysteries of food production begin to be revealed and it would be my hope that food fears could be minimized. And, there are people who actually read what I write. woohoo!

In the past five years, I have learned a lot about Agriculture.  A whole lot. I have learned that there is a whole lot of misinformation out there, particularly about food production. And, I have learned to speak out and advocate for the things that are important. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others, too. I’ve met folks (real and cyber) that have helped me to learn and I’ve been able to teach others (real and cyber) as well. Those experiences keep me going.

In '09, "Trisha" was still a show-baby

Five years ago, we were finally getting hoophouse #2 into full year-round operation.  The Boss hadn't yet built his "ultra-modern" henhouse and he hadn't even thought of the reefer project. Did you read this this one?  And, even though winter was right around the corner, we weren't concerned about our income. We had completed one year of off-season sales and had customers clamoring for more. With one daughter married and the other engaged, we were suddenly faced with being empty-nesters and figuring out how to make the farm work with two people.
Today, "Trisha" is our most productive ewe
she even raised two sets of triplets with no human help!

Our farming skills have improved over the past five years as we endeavor to always "work smarter, not harder".  I think my overall communication skills have improved… and I know my tech skills have improved!

To all of you who have read my ramblings over the years…THANK YOU!  And an even bigger THANK YOU to those who have taken the time to comment.  You will never know how much your words have meant to me.  I learn something from the comments…(even the mean ones). And, I’ve met some really nice people.

the farm- October 2014
the changes are subtle

My plan is to continue writing, even if it is only in blogging obscurity. I hope your plan is to continue reading.  Be sure to comment, too. And, if there’s something you’d like to know, please ask! If I don’t have personal knowledge, I probably know someone who does.

Five years ago, we didn't have
Gus OR Ellie
Today, we can't imagine the farm without them!


There's no telling what changes might occur in the next five years...

So...don't go away, you might miss something good!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

30 Days-Lessons from the Farm-The Challenge

November is just around the corner.  And, you know what that means…don’t you?

Aside from Thanksgiving and the end of Market season, it also means that my cyber-friend, Holly Spangler over at Farm Progress has once again issued her annual 30 day  Ag blogging challenge.

Last year was my first year to participate.   Click HERE to read. the post that includes the links to all my daily entries for the challenge. I had never tried blogging every single day before. It was indeed a challenge, but it was fun, too.  I also found some great blogs to read that I didn't know were out there.

So, I’ll take Holly up on her challenge again this year.

I really need something to push me out of my blogging funk. I know I’ve been pretty bad about blogging this summer.  I’ve had lots of ideas, but they seem to fall flat when they are written.  Focus…maybe I just need some focus.

I have decided that this year I will write about lessons learned here on the hill.  The series will be entitled
30 days of Lessons from the Farm.

The fact that I actually figured out a working plan is quite possibly a first for me. I have a lesson a day that I hope will be inspiring and educational. Don't worry, not all the lessons are exclusive to our life in Agriculture. Many apply no matter your lifestyle or livelihood.  A few of them might even be funny, giving you get a chance to laugh and learn from our mistakes. And I will still do the Sunday Walkabout since I know some of you wait for that one.  I understand T-bone really likes to read that one while he drinks his Sunday morning coffee!  

When we settled here in ’97, it was with broken hearts and battered dreams, no plan (except to somehow survive), our two little girls…and about $5 in the bank. Dark days indeed.  It has taken a lot of hard work to get to the point we are today.  Many changes have occurred and a great number of lessons have been learned. (and more than a few of those were learned the hard way) I hope you’ll come along with me as I chronicle some of the lessons throughout the month of November. Actually, I'm going to start the 31st of October with a little bit of the backstory for you.

I would also encourage you to check out all the other blogs from all sorts of Ag bloggers. There should be a lot of participants this year. It sounds like a great time! I’ll be posting a link to all the other blogs on my daily entry.  Read along and let me know what you think. I'm pretty sure you will find something interesting.

This is a pretty big commitment...I'm going to be typing like a crazy woman for a while.  Off to the keyboard...

Looking forward to November 1st!

P.S. A big THANK YOU to Holly for the inspiration and opportunity!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 10-12

The first frost of the year signals that it’s time to get serious about those preparations for winter. (yeah, I know, I don’t really want to think about it either) But, the clock is ticking and before you know it…

With that thought in mind, the next to last batch of broilers made it to the freezer this week.  We transported the LAST broilers of 2014 to their home in the back field. 
catching broilers

hauling broilers

plucking broilers

cleaning up after processing broilers

And, we said a little prayer that the weather will hold until the first week of November so we can get them processed and in the freezer. Since we do all the processing ourselves, in the backyard, I am absolutely serious about praying about the weather.  We are gambling that the weather won’t be cold and miserable for that final processing day. Even if it is miserable, we will have to muddle through and get the job done.  We’re just hoping that doesn’t happen.
last batch of broilers in the brooder

broilers outside

After the broiler processing and relocation, the next job was to clean the brooder.  I didn’t realize we had a brooder cleaning team!  Ellie and Gus hopped right up in the brooder to sniff around and eat the little “tidbits” they found. Just in case you didn’t know…farm dogs are gross, but we love ‘em anyway. 
When the dogs got done with the brooder, the Boss set to work.  I knew that he was going to do a thorough cleaning, but I really didn’t expect that the brooder would be halfway demolished when I got back from my work in the hoophouse.  But, the wooden sides were starting to show signs of age and he decided to go ahead and rip them out and replace them before the layer chicks arrive.

So, a trip to Lowe’s is the first order of business for the new week.  The layer chicks are scheduled to arrive on Friday!

After struggling through a long and dusty August and September…it seems October is going to make up for any rain deficit.  In the past 10 days, we have had 3 inches of rain! 3 inches!  We certainly can’t complain about any sort of drought now. Although, we are still short for the year and you never fuss about rain. (well, you’re not supposed to) The rain is too late to help much of the garden, but it was time for the squash, tomatoes and beans to end anyway.  There are still broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and turnips producing in the gardens. …and the fall potatoes are still in the ground.

The rain softened the ground nicely and the Boss is hoping to get the seed garlic planted this week.  The seed stock arrived last week and looks nice. By planting the garlic now, we will have fresh garlic for sale in July.

Since the wet weather precluded a lot of outdoor work, I spent a lot of time in the hoophouses and greenhouse.  There is always something to start, plant, weed or harvest.  The damp earth and lush green plants make for a nice oasis no matter what the weather is outside. When I am not completely overwhelmed by weeds, I love to spend time in the hoophouses.

In one of my many trips to the hoophouse, I encountered this Wheel Bug. Otherwise known as the Assassin Beetle, these are some of the creepiest looking bugs out there. We have seen them on the farm for years, but this season there seem to be multitudes of them. Recently, I have heard all sorts of horror stories about them. There has been a great deal of news coverage concerning their bite and the diseases they carry. 

The problem bug is actually the “kissing bug” Triatoma   a different member of the family. Read more here.  The wheel bug   Arilus cristatus is actually one of the good guys, feeding on Japanese beetles, aphids and tent caterpillars.  I wonder if they enjoy eating stink bugs.  We certainly have more than enough of those! They use their long proboscis to penetrate their prey and suck the blood.  However, they are not aggressive toward humans and shouldn’t be feared…just respected. (and avoided) 
they are creepy looking

...and this one is only 1/2 inch long!

 Like all the other creepy creatures: snakes, spiders…bats…they actually serve a purpose in the natural world. Personally, I'm all for anything that will eat pests.  Okay, I’m done with my public service announcement for the day.

The rain continued to be a story throughout the week, making Friday’s harvest day more than a little soggy and Saturday’s Market…well, it was WET!  …and cold. …and dark.  Honestly, no one had much hope for any sort of sales when the Market officially opened at 7am.  But, one of the local bands provided Dixieland music which was the perfect antidote to the dismal weather.  Many of the customers commented on the cheery atmosphere and I saw more than one person dancing along through the puddles! And, sales were surprisingly good.

7am at the Market
the streetlight went off minutes later
(and it was DARK)

After hours and hours of standing in the cold and wet, it was SO good to get back home where it was warm and dry.  Even if it was nearly time to go back outdoors and do afternoon chores.

With more rain in the forecast for today, it looks like the perfect day to catch up on some inside jobs and make the most of the opportunity by watching the movie Farmland.  This documentary was made by the award winning James Moll and has a lot of folks talking about Agriculture.  It looks like it runs counter to a lot of those other films that make some farmers out to be the bad guys, so I have high hopes for it.  If you want to watch it, it’s free all this month on Hulu.  Here’s the link.

There are more chances of rain forecast for the upcoming week, so all those pressing end-of-season jobs may get put off for a while longer.  The potatoes are waiting, the garlic is waiting…and hoophouse #2 needs a new skin. The brooder HAS to get finished and all the garden clean-up needs to be done.  But, first we have to go pick up the lamb chops! This week is either going to be very busy and successful or frustratingly re-worked and re-scheduled. We’ll have to wait and see. Like the Boss always says, “we’ll be flying by the seat of our pants!” (no, I don’t know what it means either…but, it is funny!)

Here are just a few shots that didn't really fit, but they were so pretty, I thought you should see them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Hope you have a Happy Sunday!

Come back and visit us again real soon!