Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 6-28

sunrise over Sugarloaf Mountain
While I honestly can’t believe another week has slipped by…I really need to come up with something a little more original for our little Sunday farm tour.  Unfortunately, that’s not happening today. Original thought and true inspiration are illusive commodities these days. (sorry ‘bout that)

I’m up earlier than usual in hopes of getting my weekly report finished before daylight so I can then get back to the job at hand.  Today we are having a baby shower in honor of Blondie and Grandbaby #2 and I still haven’t wrapped the presents! (among other things) YIKES

So, here we go…

upper garden is looking pretty good
It is finally, finally starting to feel like the growing season has arrived.  I’m not alone in my observations of weird weather, crop failures and a general feeling of malaise. But, this week something shifted and I’m hoping that it is a sign of a new trend.

portion of garlic crop drying in the field

While I was on the town run, the Boss dug the garlic crop. If you remember, this is the crop we very nearly gave up on.  For months, that garlic sat in the ground and didn’t look like anything was ever going to grow. We were going to till and plant something else. We really thought about giving up on garlic all together. But, then it sprouted…and then it grew…and it looks like we’re staying in garlic growing for a while longer. 

The scapes alone were astounding.

 Each one was almost as big as my pinky finger and about a foot long. Garlic scapes are beginning to garner the recognition and popularity they so richly deserve. Yesterday at Market, our biggest garlic scape addict customer/promoter finally came up with a great description of scapes.  He says they are like a slightly garlic flavored young asparagus spear (no tip).  He’s right. And, they’re delicious.  We sold a lot, froze some for winter use and sales, made some scape pesto and even tried our hand at garlic scape-salt. (haven’t finished that project, but it looks promising). You can read  THIS for more on scapes.

After the bulbs were dug and allowed to dry in the field for a while, we transported them to the barn where they will sit on racks to cure.  This mellows out the flavor a little and dries the bulbs for storage. The Boss “cheated” and took some to Market because it was just too pretty not to share.
setting garlic to cure

fresh garlic

ready for Market

But, look what I saw on my way to town...

...and there's the fawn
While deer are beautiful, they are a true nuisance to gardeners and to farmers. So, if these two know what's good for them, they will stay down by the creek.

Then, it was time to check on the potato crop.  I must say, I had some serious misgivings about this crop, too. (maybe I’m just having some sort of faith issue…) The plants were enormous and often a lot of top growth on a root crop indicates that the energy has gone into the plant instead of what is below the surface.  However, that was NOT the case this time.  The potatoes are beautiful…and there are LOTS of them.
red potatoes

Yukon Gold potatoes

a quick rinse

ready for Market

Speaking of potatoes, we will be planting the fall crop in just about a week, so he tilled under the weed patch that was once the brassicas in preparation.  Here’s hoping the potatoes do better than the early broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage did! (what a disappointment) Not only does the garden look better, I think my attitude improved with the visual reminder of failure removed.
tilling for fall

I spent some quality time tying up the tomato plants to the trellises. Honestly, I don’t like this job much.  It seems like it has to be done on the hottest, humid-est day causing the sticky yellow plant resin to mix with sweat and dirt and turn my hands black and I smell like a giant tomato. (which was an improvement from what I smelled like a couple of times during the week, so maybe I shouldn’t complain) By trellising and tying the tomatoes, we protect the plants from wind damage and the precious fruits rotting by coming in contact with the ground.  With this year’s trend to horrendous downpours, this job is imperative.  We will have to do it a couple more times throughout the growing season. …and we’re still waiting for that first tomato.
...and I'm not even really dirty yet!

The zucchini and summer squash harvest has begun in earnest. For the next couple months, I will be checking on those every day in hopes of keeping ahead of the submarine sized squash that seem to appear all too quickly.  Those enormous fruits give zucchini in particular a bad rap. When picked small, they are actually quite tasty and delicious. (but, the big ones make some fine bread, cake and oven fries)
Is it gold or is it green?
the zucchini conundrum

just a few squashes

With the weekend rapidly approaching, the weather forecast became an issue. (when is it not?) The rain chances were 100%, which was more than a little disheartening. We have a 5-hour window, in an open-air market to make our living. Saturday morning rain is NOT our friend. But, it is what it is.  Those vegetables must be picked…

Early Saturday morning (about 1am) I was awakened by the sound of rain.  Not gentle raindrops on the rooftop.  Not at all.  It sounded as if the entire house had been suddenly thrust into a high-pressured car wash with the water turned on full-blast.  I have never heard anything like it! (It must have been one small cell that went through the area. A number of other folks heard it and had similar descriptions) It dropped over a half an inch in less than 5 minutes.  It was still pouring when we started loading for Market. And, while feeding chores in the dark aren’t a whole lot of fun, pouring rain makes them just plain miserable.

disheartening weather map

at least the sheep got clean
but, man, could my windshield use some washing!

The rain was supposed to be around for the entire day, so our expectations for the Market were fairly slim. But, again…it is what it is.
market stand on a very rainy morning

And, amazingly…it was GREAT! We sold LOTS of meat…all the veggies (except just a few potatoes and some green beans that Blondie was coveting anyway) and actually had our best day all season. Go figure! Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, customers.
home again

Today, the wind is blowing. That’s almost always the way after a big rain event. (we ended up with over two inches---some localities reported over 4!) I don’t like listening to the wind howl all day, and it’s nearly impossible to work outdoors when it’s blowing this hard (gusts up over 30mph) So, I’m glad to be heading out to the baby shower.

And, I guess this is where I’ll close for this week…

but, first PLEASE tell me my cupcakes look like sunflowers...

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

what is so rare as a day in June...

Thanks for stopping by!  Come back and see us again real soon.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 6-21

ewes grazing on a June afternoon

It’s SUMMER! (well, almost…officially summer begins at 12:38pm…but, close enough) It’s felt like summer for quite some time now and this week was no exception.  It was hot! And humid.

muggy sunrise

I’m fairly certain I sound weather-obsessed.  It comes up in just about every post and quite honestly, weather is a topic of perhaps the vast majority of my conversations. Looking at it that way, I must admit, it does sound like an obsession.  However, weather affects EVERYTHING we do. AND…our only selling opportunity is a 5-hour window in an open-air market. So, yeah, weather is a BIG deal.  And, I can promise, I WILL talk about it again before I end this post.

Other than heat and humidity (and a tropical storm in the offing) this week was one of job alliteration. I’m pretty sure that’s not a real thing, but for this post we will pretend it is.
the hens kept cool by putting their heads UNDER the henhouse

First we had MEATY Monday.

During morning chores we captured all the broilers and hauled them back to the house for processing after breakfast.  We’ve gotten fairly efficient and a couple of hours later we had everything cleaned up and the broilers were chilling in the walk-in cooler.

So, we packed the portable coolers in the back of our vehicle, got a little lunch in town and headed off to the processor’s to pick up the lambs that were now chops and roasts and sausage. As usual, the meat looks great, thanks in no small part to the great team at Gore’s Processing. …and yes, we did have lamb burgers for supper!
broiler ready for packaging and freezing

freezer full of lamb

Tuesday was my TOWN day for running errands. But, before we could do anything---even eat breakfast---we had to move broilers to pasture. This would later prove to be a very good thing.
the chicks are not too  impressed with their outdoor digs

 I also needed to bake a birthday cake for son-in-law #1 so we could deliver that and some awesome bar-be-que (from Sooners in the Draft) as part of our “birthday celebration”.  However, before I could finish the cake, my phone rang and…you guessed it.  The Staunton Post Office was letting me know that there were some chicks waiting for me to TRANSPORT them back to the hill. I hurriedly finished the cake and headed back to town, leaving behind a disastrous kitchen. 
my travel companions

I wonder just how many chicks have lived in the brooder...

With the chicks tucked in the brooder, I cleaned up the birthday cake mess (should have taken pictures of that...there were chocolate cake crumbs, cherries and whipped cream in the oddest places!)  As a testament to our failing senior brain cells, we had two cameras at the occasion and didn’t take even take one picture of the birthday “boy”, his family, or the birthday cake. Sorry, y’all!

a whole lot of supplies have to be hauled out back
just to shear one ram!

Wednesday was WET and WOOLLY. 

Thankfully, not at the same time.  

With soaring temperatures and no relief in sight, we decided it was time to shear Waylon. He needs to be as cool and comfortable as possible during the heat of summer as he will be back in “action” around the first of August.  While he is a wonderful ram and we will both be extremely sad to see him leave the hill, he is also more than a little intimidating.  He’s just SO big. (he probably weighs three hundred pounds)  One of his hooves fills my hand…and he truly hates to have his feet touched.  But, we clipped his wool and his hooves without incident. The heat and humidity meant that the clean-up job was stickier and smellier than usual. I’m here to tell you there’s a very good reason “eau de hot ram wool” cologne is not a popular scent. 
before shearing


freshly shorn and wonderfully cool


With an eye to the weather (again) the Boss decided to make a dump/fuel run. ...and we finally got all the ewe wool out of the barn!  Tropical Storm Bill was due to make an arrival and the predictions were for up to THREE inches of rain.  With the kind of grass growth that would produce, it would be best to be prepared. 

Showers started just as we returned home.  We ended up with about 5/8 inch, although our daughter who lives on the other side of Staunton reported 1.30 inches! (yes, my weather obsession did indeed affect the next generation) But, that was just rain…Tropical storm Bill wasn’t supposed to hit the area until Saturday. Yes, Market day.  Bad weather on Market day is always a concern, particularly when the Boss has music scheduled…

Thursday turned into a day focused on TRACTORS and TRANSPORTATION. The Boss is working on a trade-in deal on the garden tractor.  Honestly I don’t understand all the particulars since I don’t handle the mowing, tilling and tractor-related stuff.  But, he headed out to the local John Deere dealer to talk to the salesman and kick a few tires.

While he was gone, the fella from the Farm Bureau called and reported that the Boss’ special order was in and requested that someone come pick it up.   Again, “not my department”, so I can’t say that the super-duper dog kennel purchase looked exciting to me.  But, I assure you, just wait…the Boss has big plans for that, too, even though it did require yet another TRIP to another TOWN. 
I can assure you that the Boss' plans for these kennel panels have
NOTHING to do with dogs! (stay tuned)
Then, it was FINALLY FRIDAY! 

Good Friday morning from the hill

It always makes me laugh to hear people talk about “dress-down Friday” and the end of the workweek. We never dress UP around here and it’s a toss-up as to whether we work harder on Friday or Saturday. We spent the day preparing for Market, just like we have every Friday for the last 18 years.  The zucchini finally made an appearance this week...and the summer lettuce is coming on...

green and gold zucchini

summer lettuce

baby zucchini
by picking the tiny ones, I can skip picking on Sunday

Next week we will have green beans!

Another “F” for Friday…the FLEA beetles have made their bothersome appearance.  And, just last week, a customer commented on the lack of holes in the arugula. Sadly, the leaves were somewhat hole-y for Satuday’s Market.
flea beetles feasting on arugula

Saturday is always about SALES as we head to the Market.
time to head out to the Market

Everyone was talking about Tropical Storm Bill which was due to make an appearance at any time. The dire predictions were still in force and lots of folks were worried about high winds and flooding. 
However, the weather held for the Market.

our silly sign worked
we sold a couple hundred dollars worth of lamb
Our customers had been waiting patiently for lamb to return to our product line-up, so we had a good sales day and lots of happy people…and it didn’t rain on the musicians!  That makes for a successful Market. Want to see the Boss's Market photos?  Check  this out.

here come the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill

The rains from Tropical Storm Bill arrived after we finished afternoon chores and continued sporadically into the night.  Despite the dire predictions, we only got ¾ inch of rain, although it looked like the places on the other side of the mountain must have seen some big storms and I’m guessing very high totals.

Sunday is a generally a SLOW day around here. We even SLEPT in…until 5:30am. (old habits die hard)

And, that brings us to the end of our alliteration week here on the hill.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

beautiful morning after the rain

Thanks for stopping by.  Come “visit” us again real soon!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Walkabout 6-14

after a week of hard work, things are looking pretty good here on the hill
Wow! Summer arrived in full-force this week. I know the calendar says we have a few more days of spring, but the heat and the workload say otherwise.

There is no denying that the past seven days qualify as “productive”. With a great deal of effort, we managed to get caught up after the week of rain. Just one thing remains undone on the lengthy “to-do” list I made last Sunday. (and I knew I was being overly optimistic) I would say that we “worked like dogs”, but I’m here to tell you that Gus didn’t lift a paw to do anything productive.
THIS greeted me first thing Monday morning.
WHAT was he doing?

He does keep us amused
that counts for something, right?

That meant a week of planting, mulching, fertilizing, weeding, seeding, and harvesting.  There was even a little lamb wrestling thrown in there for good measure. Believe me, there’s nothing like a day of summer farm work to make you appreciate hot water for a shower and clean clothes!

brussels sprout transplants

winter squash

use your imagination...
there are LOTS of little plants out there

We planted hundreds (and hundreds) of transplants in the gardens. I stopped counting when we reached 500 in the garden. (there were more in the hoophouses)  The brussels sprouts and winter squash have been tucked into their respective homes.  The succession plantings of broccoli, cucumbers and summer squash are adapting to the upper garden.  We’re just beginning to harvest the first planting.  Nothing like the first squash of summer. …and the beans are blooming!
bean blossom

With all the transplants out of the greenhouse, it was time to start more for the fall planting.  It took me two afternoons, but now both greenhouses are filled to capacity once more and in a few weeks we’ll have another huge “plant-a-thon” day. (probably DAYS…this time there are THOUSANDS of seedlings) By the end of the week, there was a lot of germination going on. That’s always exciting.
just seeded

we have germination!

look at all the green!
(and please overlook the mess)

The weather turned hot…real hot this week. 
muggy sunrise

That’s good for crops like tomatoes and peppers, but spells the end for asparagus and strawberries.

looks like it's going to be a good pepper year
  It also means the sheep are looking for some relief from the heat.  With plenty of trees in each paddock, you wouldn’t think they would hang out behind the barn in the bright sunshine and dust.  But, sheep logic dictates that on days when the temperature is 85 and the humidity is over 50%, at least one ewe will attempt to find shelter under the feeder. If nothing else, it does provide a little comic relief for the humans.
chillin' ewe
Later, we gave them run of the shady alley next to the hoophouses where the grass is thick and lush…but, they found it incredibly startling that I was actually in the hoophouse and spent more time running in panic than actually eating.  Sheep!
grazing in the alley

She was petrified when she saw me inside the hoophouse.

I really thought this one was going to die
but, look at him now!
After a long haul of repeatedly checking lambs, treating them and spending hours worrying over them, I think it’s safe to say that they’re all looking quite healthy.  We have had a real problem with parasites this year, as have a number of other producers, mostly due to the weather. Internal parasites cause all sorts of health issues and will kill lambs without diligent care on the part of the shepherd.  It’s always a good feeling to know that we’ve overcome the problem.  

 I know I’m beginning to sound like I’m stuck on repeat…but, this year has been a real challenge in a number of ways.
perfectly healthy and looking for treats
grazing after the rain

Which brings me to the brassica crop.  Ugh. The Boss finally decided it was time to cut our losses and put an end to the eyesore.  We salvaged what we could and then he bush-hogged and mowed, bringing some semblance of neatness to the garden once more.  In a couple weeks, we will be planting the fall potatoes in that space.  While the crop was not a total failure, it was a great disappointment and we certainly didn’t make any money on it. Bummer.

there really were some broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower plants in there



ready to till for the next crop

But, there’s always next year…(that’s become our mantra lately)

Wednesday’s sunrise was one of those things that made us stop and stare.

totally un-retouched photos
 It was a hot, still, cloudless day and the sun was a perfectly round, glowing red orb.  Honestly, neither one of us could remember seeing anything quite like it. It was just a little creepy.  The weird skies even made the news.  Oddly, it was due to smoke from wildfires…in Canada!  The smoke was being carried aloft by the Jetstream and affected our weather for days.You can read more about it here. That was one for the books.

In another of those “one for the books” kind of things…there are millions (and yes, I do mean MILLIONS) of mulberries this year. Talk about delicious! 

 There are enough for the birds, the squirrels (the lambs even ate some) and the humans this year. I’m pretty sure the wandering, marauding deer herd has eaten more than a few as well.  Our original intent when we planted the trees years ago was to have another fruit for sale. This was the first year they have produced well enough to even consider this.  However, they are incredibly fragile and I’m pretty sure we couldn’t get them to the Market in good shape. We ended up with purple fingers and a fairly mangled mess when we picked them earlier in the week. I reckon that's why I have never seen them fresh in the grocery.  So sorry, customers! 

we really need to figure out a way to make these available for sale
they are SO good!

But, we did have other stuff for Saturday’s Market. 

Except lamb. That was frustrating. The processor had a conflict and had to do some re-scheduling.  Demand for our product is at an all-time high. So, we ran out. And, I mean OUT. I think there might be a few pounds of ground left.  But, no chops, roasts, steaks, sausage…you get the picture. We lost a lot of Market sales.  But, in the good news department, it’s all ready now and we’ll be making a little roadtrip tomorrow. (after we process broilers)

So, I guess it’s time to bring this to a close…

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Thanks for stopping by.  Come “visit” us again real soon!
Gus says "have a great week!"