Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 7-16

neighbor's steers deal with the weather..
It’s been daggone hot lately.

I realize this is no real news. 

by standing in the creek

It’s JULY. 

In a Southern State. 
It's hot and hazy
the light is harsh
the grass is dry
it's July in VA!

We should be used to this even though the heat has been extreme with no relief in sight. But, we haven’t even had the record-setting temperatures that we have elsewhere, so I guess we shouldn’t complain. However, coupled with the fact that we haven’t seen any measurable rain in weeks...well, the weather is rapidly becoming a story in and of itself.

It has certainly affected life on the hill this week. And, it’s getting to the point where every conversation elsewhere starts with “get any rain this week?”  That can be a tricky question. If you’ve received rain and you know that your fellow conversationalist has not, you feel bad. It sounds braggartly to claim the life-giving moisture when you know the rest of the county is parched. On the other hand, if you haven’t gotten any rain and you’re watching the crops wither and the animals suffer, you really don’t want to hear about the beautiful showers that someone else has been getting all week. It seems impossible to be jealous of rain, but I can assure you it happens. Particularly in Ag country. But, without talking about the weather, we’ve run out of topics for safe conversation.

Now that we’ve established the fact that it has been hot, (and dry) the stage has been set for telling you just what actually happened around here this week. 

No doubt about it...
there is a fox out back!
(the blue thing is the hoophouse)

After years of hard use, a much-needed repair job
Don't know what this thing is? (me, either)

bush-hogging the middle garden
We're finally going to get the 'taters planted!

It was another “week of the broiler” and we were hoping for a better experience than last time.

ready to haul the broilers

...and so it begins

 (if you don’t this) Processing went off without a hitch and we moved on to other things. We got the entire batch done and in the cooler in less than four hours. Not bad for two old folks.
I think this one's having a "bad hair day"!

Okay, guys...the point of the FIELD pen is to eat grass and get a little exercise...
not just sit there in a big heap

Tuesday, we moved the mid-sized broilers to the field pen. During the move, one chick got a cut on her back. (when I put them in the boxes to move, I sat another bird on top of her...and broilers have sharp toenails) During the summer, open wounds present the perfect opportunity for flystrike. Flystrike is not only gross and disgusting, it can be deadly, so we try to prevent it at all costs. Since it can be next to impossible to bandage livestock, particularly chickens, we use a spray application. Unfortunately, this particular can seemed to take on a mind of its own and spray out everywhere. Thankfully I got some on the chicken! But, I ended up looking like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. I can now personally attest to the fact that this stuff stands up to water (and scrubbing). And, I need to buy a new can...
That certainly didn't go like I intended!

The Boss headed out to a DR appointment while I tackled the zucchini picking and hauled plants to the hoophouse. His appointment granted some peace of mind with the doc saying he thought the problem was easily treated silent reflux. Our friends Joseph and Eva over at  Rockbridge Cider will be happy to know that this doctor is actually prescribing cider vinegar to his patients. That should be good for business!

At the Boss’ prompting, I headed out to see the doc myself. That pain in my neck is back. It now affects my fingers and my head, making it miserable to pick for Market. Besides, we needed some chicken feed, so I could just head over to the Urgent Care in the Draft.

I had tried calling the Spine Clinic. They said I needed to see my family doctor. But, they couldn’t see me until October. Urgent Care could see me, they agreed I had a problem. They even gave it a name.  cervical radiculopathy (a pinched nerve, pain in the neck...see? I told you) . But, they can’t order tests or do anything further. I really needed to follow up with the family doctor. (round and round we go) So, they put me in a soft cervical collar, gave me a prescription for pain, got me a different appointment date and sent me on my way. End of story. Well...not exactly.

When I got home, it was well past choretime. I could see the Boss out feeding the sheep, so I figured I would get started on supper so things wouldn’t be too off-schedule. (I do hate when supper is late)
Maybe it was because I was hot and getting “hangry”. Maybe I was stressed and trying to hurry. Maybe it was wearing that collar...I really don’t know how it happened, but I sliced the end of my thumb. Never one to do things halfway, I laid that thing wide opened.  It was like a geyser. Blood went everywhere (no, not in my supper prep)  I stanched the flow with hydrogen peroxide and a huge wad of toilet paper. You can imagine the Boss’ face when he came in and was faced with the sight of a neck brace and my bloody thumb...(and I’d been fine when I left just a couple of hours prior!)

Long story short, we got the mess cleaned up and supper served with no further incidents. Although, I am beginning to think I shouldn’t slice cabbage with that big white knife anymore. I ended up with stitches in my foot one other time. Did you read this? And, maybe I shouldn’t have worked so hard to get that aerosol bandage stuff off my hand earlier in the day.
not as bad as I thought
(still have tp and cabbage on my hand at this point)

But the story doesn’t end there. The pain medication made my tachycardia act up again. The cardio doc said “no” on continuing the pain medication. That was okay by me. The feeling that my heart is coming out of my chest is not a pleasant one! (however, relief from the neck pain sure would have been nice) And, since it’s about a million degrees and I work outside, that cervical collar only lasted about a day before I decided that completely melting wasn’t a good look on me either. (the doctor wasn’t fully convinced it would solve anything anyway) So, I’m back to square one with my neck. Well, not exactly. They did make that appointment for me. I only have to wait until August now... But, that is sooner than October, and I’ve made it this long so I won’t complain (too much) and, I will be thankful that I cut my left thumb and not my right. Because while it still hurts, at least I’m not fully incapacitated during summer harvest. Now, that would have been bad!

There's plenty to harvest...

cucumber trellis

ripe tomatoes!
it won't be long until the butternut squash are ready!

As the week (and the heat) continued, we got a call from the Post Office. A phonecall that starts out “uh...Miz Womack? Uh...your chicks are here...and...uh...there are some dead ones in the box...uh, I don’t know what you’d want to do about that...” simply cannot be good. It was with much trepidation that I set off to pick up the chicks. And, I guess it says something about me that when I opened the box (inside the Post Office this time) and found 10 dead chicks, I was just relieved that it wasn’t as bad as last time. And, I said so out loud. I didn’t even call the hatchery, I just emailed. We will just make do with a smaller batch of chicks this time. And, pray for cooler weather next month. The survivors are hale and hearty and already growing rapidly.

aren't they cute?
they made themselves a little nest

After watching storm clouds gather and then dissipate repeatedly, it looked like we were finally going to get our turn for some precipitation. Oh, we got some precipitation all right! A half-inch of rain came down in little more than half an hour. The rain was great. The intensity was not. As the Boss did chores, he did a little crop checking. He had just tied up the tomato plants, so they fared well. The broccoli and squash plants had been tossed around a bit, but would be fine. The corn...well, the corn was another story.

It has been a couple of years since we grew sweet corn. I guess I had forgotten the reasons why we stopped. Everyone loves sweet corn. And, I do mean EVERYONE. "Bambi", "Thumper", greedy groundhogs and errant raccoons...all the varmints try to eat it. So, it demands a fair amount of diligence to protect the crop from all those hungry mouths. And, then, there is the weather. While the rain is a blessing, the wind that comes along with it can be a curse. Particularly in the case of sweet corn. Sweet corn isn’t as sturdy as field corn (field corn is a completely different crop used for animal feed, food products and ethanol) The storm flattened our sweet corn crop. (although not as bad as I have seen)

flattened corn

it's really flat!

But, we couldn’t leave it that way. Corn isn’t meant to grow sideways. It’s a matter of physics. The corn tassel drops its pollen down on the silks of the cobs and pollinating the seeds inside, creating...corn on the cob. Vertical growth is a necessity. Not only was the corn flattened, but the rain had come down so hard and fast that everything was a mushy, mucky mess, so we couldn’t go into the corn patch and stand all the corn back up again without doing even more damage. In the past, we have gone through the garden and stood the stalks back up again. By stepping firmly on either side, you can give the plants enough stability to stand proud once more. (until another storm) This is time consuming and doesn’t always work, but at least we know we did all we could. But, we weren’t going to have time to get to it until after Market. 

Thankfully, this variety of corn is a little more sturdy and hardy than the type we’ve grown in the past. Left to its own devices, it returned to an upright position without human intervention!  We can strike that job from the to-do list and get on to something else. Like snapping those beans left over from Market for canning. (looks like we will spend the afternoon on the front porch, putting up beans for winter)
standing corn 7-15

I'm pretty sure it grew overnight!

Speaking of the Market, it was a crazy, busy day downtown. The past couple of weeks have seen huge numbers of folks visiting Staunton and the surrounding area, this results in great sales totals and very few leftovers. (and two tired old farmers)

lots of goodies for Market

lots of vendors at Market
(this is part of the second row)

looking down the sidewalk before opening
sorry, no pics of all the people...
we were TOO busy!
Wait! here are some of the people who made the Market a special place on Saturday.

So, here’s to a little rest and relaxation. (and bean canning)

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 
May the upcoming week be cool...
"cool as the center seed of a cucumber"!
(to borrow a line from Andy Griffith)

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

 Did you see my post yesterday?  It's been TWENTY years since we settled on the hill. Read THIS.

You really need to see the Boss' Market shots from this week. Check them out HERE.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

To Be Continued...

We were making a wild dash across the county, peering intently out the windshield, hoping against hope that we could beat the rain. But, afternoon thunderstorms were building ominously in our path. The kids were tucked in the backseat. The dog was most unhappily riding in the back of the truck, under the cover of the camper-top. Our most essential belongings were crammed into an open trailer as we made yet another trip over hill and dale, up and down the winding roads to Middlebrook. I’d lost track of the number of times we had traveled these roads. But, this time we were going to stay. This time we could call it HOME.

By the time we pulled in the driveway, success was certain. We beat the rain!

If Hollywood had scripted our arrival on the hill, we would have then seen the clouds part, a rainbow arching above us, birds would have begun singing as our children skipped along, picking flowers as we walked hand in hand to our new home. The music would soar, the credits would roll...another happy ending. Not only had we escaped the rain, we had beat the odds, weathered some serious personal storms, faced the demons and come out victorious. We were living the dream.

As it was, we were tired, so very tired, not to mention hot and sweaty from racing that thunderstorm across the county, the kids were hungry and the dog was grumpy.

But, we were here. We were finally home.

Our first meal in our long-awaited, hard-won new home should have been glorious. Instead, it was stone-cold something picked up at the Tasteefreeze along the way where the dog had barked ferociously the entire time we sat at the drive-thru window. In our attempt to beat the rain, we decided to drive first and eat later, which explains the less than optimal temperature of our first supper.  But, we were fed. Although, the dog’s mood didn’t improve as she found herself tied to the front porch railing while we hurried to get the bedding and boxes in before darkness fell.

We scrambled around to find all the things the children needed to get bathed and tucked in for the night. The coffeepot was located for easy morning access before we fell exhausted into deep slumber in this strange new place, wondering if this would ever feel like home…

Those dreams that had convinced to pull up roots and start over seemed distant memories and it was doubtful that our beaten, broken hearts would ever recover.

It was definitely not a Hollywood ending.

It wasn’t even an ending. That was simply the beginning...

That wild trip across the county was twenty years ago. 

TWENTY years ago. 


In some ways it seems like yesterday, and in others it seems a lifetime.

20 years.

That’s a long time to do something. Anything. But, it seems an especially long time to do something you never really intended to do in the first place.

Because this isn’t what either of us ever planned on doing. Not at all...

But, that's another story. One that I really thought I'd have completed by now. But, living the life I write about gets in the way of writing about said life. I’ll get to it…someday.

For weeks now, I’ve been thinking about this post. I’ve started countless times only to turn off the computer in frustration. You know, it was far more satisfying when we wrote with pen and ink...when you could crumple up that awful first draft and toss it in the trash! 

And, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps I wrote the perfect anniversary post last year. Did you read this?  Click HERE.

Maybe I should just follow the Boss’ suggestion and just change the date and re-post.

But, our twentieth anniversary here on the hill deserves some sort of recognition. Because, quite honestly, at the risk of repetition, it is a big deal. Twenty years really is a long time to do anything. But, considering how this all began makes it remarkable. The fact that we took a bad situation (no, wait...a nightmarish, horrifying situation) Click here to read.  and made a success out of it is noteworthy.  And, it is a success by anyone's standards. Right? (seriously, am I right? …can we truly consider this a success? Sometimes I really do not know)

This was nothing but an empty sheep field when we started. Nothing. And, look at it now!

It’s a testament to the Boss’ ingenuity, creative problem-solving and hard work. There isn’t a structure on the hill that does not bear his handiwork.  My own efforts and influences are far more subtle.

Quite honestly, by now I thought we'd be resting on our laurels (although, I must say I'm not exactly sure what a laurel is...nor how one goes about resting on one...) I thought there would be some quantitative measure of our successes. Maybe subconsciously I was longing for that Hollywood ending that cannot come.

But, our life here on the hill speaks for itself. We loved and learned and laughed together...raising our daughters in a unique environment that sparked their creativity and gave them insights and problem-solving skills for use in their grownup lives as they raise families of their own. (and hopefully we didn’t screw up too badly and they remember it fondly) We built community and provided some delicious food while learning to become Market vendors.  And, we’ve managed to keep the wolf from the door all this time by the sweat of our brows and the fruits of our labors. (I think I just answered my own question from a few paragraphs back)

Definitely a success.

But, the world has changed a lot in the past twenty years. It’s a far more harsh and unkind place. Things we have taken for granted are far more uncertain than we ever imagined. And, in a very real way our grasp on health and well-being and therefore sustainability appears tenuous at best. So, any concrete plans for the future seem elusive.

I’ll admit, for a planner, someone who wants it all figured out, it’s hard to be enthusiastic and optimistic in the face of such uncertainties. But tell me, really, what are the options?

Even though it’s hard sometimes, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past twenty years. Get up, get a plan and get going. ...lather, rinse, repeat... It’s worked this long, surely it will work some more.

So, I don’t have a Hollywood ending for this post. Maybe that’s because it’s not the end. So, I guess I should just write... be continued...

And Happy Anniversary little homestead on the hill.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 7-9

harvesting involves a fair amount of water

Harvest...this week was all about harvest.

While the word harvest may conjure thoughts of big, specialized equipment and large work crews, that is not the case on an operation of our size and scale. Most of our harvest is simply the two of us picking, picking, picking by hand. More often than not, I do the picking and the Boss does the processing for sale. It’s all about teamwork.

picking green beans
If you recall, last Sunday I wrote that I thought the green beans were calling us. That was no exaggeration. In fact, it was more like they were screaming. Closer investigation showed that they were at the peak of perfection. To leave them any longer would have meant that big, bean-y beans that nobody would want. So, we picked. And picked. And, yes, picked some more. We ended up with over FIFTY pounds of green beans. 
(and the knowledge that in a few days there would be more)

That took about two hours. Bent over. In the hot sun. So much for a restful Sunday afternoon.

Our trek to the bean patch took us right past the broccoli. And, of course the broccoli needed picking as well. But, picking broccoli in the heat of the afternoon doesn’t work too well since it gets all "wilt-y" and limp in the bright sunshine. We try to do the broccoli harvest while the dew is still on the plants in order to have the best quality for the Market.

picking broccoli
Job one for Monday would be the broccoli harvest before I headed to town. We’re getting to the end of the early brassica planting and the Boss wants to bush-hog that garden soon so we can get the fall potatoes in the ground, so time was of the essence. It shouldn’t take long...
beautiful broccoli

Two hours and over 100 pounds of broccoli later, I was ready to wring my clothes out and head to town. (one problem with working in the dewy garden, you get soaked to the skin) In the end, I opted for dry clothes and clean boots. 

I ran into one of my favorite little buddies in town, so we had a fun time together while his mom did some speedy shopping of her own.
never know who you will find in the Walmart parking lot!

By the time I got back, the Boss had the garden beds ready for planting the next batch of cucumber plants.
preparing to plant the July cucumbers
With those in the ground, I headed out the check the zucchini while he focused on washing eggs and cutting grass.

The cooler was already starting to get full...and it was only Monday!

Tuesday was a holiday.

beautiful light at morning chores

And, that meant absolutely nothing to the work here on the hill. 

afternoon on the farm

I must say, the Fourth of July certainly comes at a bad time for farm celebration. We’re generally up to our elbows/necks in picking something. And, the animals are definitely NOT fans of the loud noises as our neighbors celebrate. It is the one day of the year that both Gus and Ellie refuse to stay outside. (they nearly knocked me over trying to get in the shop to cower under the workbench until the fireworks were over) 

"I don't's loud and scary...
and I'm taking the day off!
The sheep are on their own."

obviously they recovered
as soon as the noise stopped

Personally, I am not a big fireworks fan, either. (too much noise and smoke) But, these super-processed photos I took of dill weed turned out looking like pretty fireworks. And, no noise!

But, as time moves relentlessly forward, the calendar tells us that it’s time to get the potatoes out of cold storage for late season planting.
getting the 'taters out of cold storage

the potatoes are sending sprouts up THROUGH the bag!
(definitely ready to plant)
In order to get the potatoes in the ground, the cabbages have to come out of the garden. And, once the cabbages come out of the garden, they have to go somewhere...(and like I said, the cooler was getting full) so, we really needed to attend to the reefer.

this is the brassica garden
yes, there are really cabbages and broccoli in there
amongst the weeds

When we refer to “the reefer” we get some funny looks. Seriously, people, not THAT kind of reefer! RE-frigerator unit...reefer. Not to be confused with “the cooler” unit in the shop.  While most folks don’t have the storage portion of a box truck sitting in their yard, this is one of the best purchases we ever made. You can read about the saga in the posts below.

By re-purposing this unit, we were able to expand our cold storage potential for far less than the cost of a brand-new walk-in. It just took a little creative thinking. (just another example of the Boss’ brilliance) We use the reefer for big harvests and long-term storage.

After the potatoes were moved into the shop to acclimate prior to planting, and before the cabbages moved in, it seemed an opportune time to clean the whole unit. There is a lot of dirt involved in farming, and it all seems to end up where we don’t want it. I wiped down the shelves and then shop-vacuumed the floor. Now, we were ready for cabbages!

lots of cabbage

Since the cabbages were wet (we got just enough rain while we were harvesting to make things slightly soggy), we left them sitting in rows on the shelves to dry a bit so they wouldn’t rot in storage. We don’t want them to dry too long or they would dehydrate. (and I don't think there's much call for dehydrated cabbage. At least not locally) Later we would go back and put them in large plastic bags to retain their freshness until it is time for the Boss to process them for Market.

after being rinsed and trimmed
some cabbages are cut in half and bagged for sale
others are sold whole

I know that some folks think that in order to grow things for Market you just plop the seeds in the ground, wait for something to pop back out and then head to Market where it magically sells itself and you make a whole lot of money.


There is an art to growing for Market and actually selling the things you grew. (another post for another time)  So, we spend a lot of time preparing crops for sale. The cabbages and broccoli need to be trimmed up, the cukes and zukes cleaned and sorted, and the greens must be rinsed and bagged. Then, we put everything in cold storage to keep it nice until Market morning.
cooler full of produce ready to go to the Market

However, that cleaning and preparation pays off in the long run and we sell a lot of vegetables! Those that don’t make the perfect grade for sale feed us and allow us to contribute to the noon lunch program at the church. ( THIS  local program provides a hot meal for those in need) Vegetable trimmings and any spoiled produce go to the hens, so nothing gets wasted around here!

hens enjoy a broccoli feast

Maybe it was all the harvesting...but the week simply sped by. We did get a few other things done. We ended up picking green beans again. (another 50+ pounds) We made a trip to the dump. We got another succession of broccoli planted. I thinned and seeded any misses in the fall crop that is growing in the greenhouse.
a peek in the greenhouse
The Boss got the hoophouse ready for the next crop of spinach/lettuce and arugula. I froze the jugs that we use for processing, because broiler week is looming once more. The electo-net arrived. And, just in time. Something was eating the corn!

eaten corn

So, the Boss did a little “wabbit” hunting as well.
between this...

(bambi and thumper were cute in the movies, but they can NOT be allowed to devastate the garden)

...and this...

the corn is safe!

We worked the lambs, moved the sheep and did all the regular, everyday chores. And, just like was Saturday.

farm silhouette at sunrise
Saturday dawned clear and somewhat cooler, although quite dry. (honestly, we are doing some serious praying for rain at this point) Great Market weather! We did not see the crowds from last week, and the Market didn’t set any records, but all in all, it was a good day.
Our friend Karen and her family sell daylilies (among other things)
they were so pretty in the morning light I had to stop and take a photo

the full veggie stand doesn't fit in the frame!
...and, that’s about it for our week. Although, in keeping with our harvest theme of the week, we will be heading out to the bean patch again this afternoon. (and I’m pretty sure I better check the zucchini, too!)

…and, at some point, we need to can the beans left over from the Market, freeze some broccoli and do something with the zucchini (and two potatoes) still sitting on the kitchen table…

we had tiny zucchini pizzas for lunch

Looking back over old posts, I realized that we should be noting an anniversary of sorts. Last year we found a little kitten in the hen yard. Today, she’s the queen of the house and probably the nicest cat we have ever had. So glad Remy found us! (this post includes the story of Remy's arrival )
Remy knows she's pretty special

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

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

Here’s a link to a quick “virtual trip” to the Staunton Farmers’ Market.