Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 5-21

a sure sign of broiler week
white feathers in the backyard

Did you know that it was Broiler Week?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t…the observance was pretty limited. As in, just here on the hill.

Once a month, we have a week that revolves around broilers.

Now, for those of you who may not know...a broiler is a type of chicken. A type of chicken bred specifically for quick growth and easy processing. If you’re interested, you can read more about them HERE.  You may want to read THIS one, too. 

There are other chickens bred specifically for egg-laying, those are referred to as layers (hens). For the record, the variety of egg-laying chickens is incredible. But, the vast majority of the chicken eaten in this country is of the cross-bred broiler type.

home-grown supper

I need to do  little “ag-vocating” here and then I will get back to my story.  Much of what you may have heard about the poultry industry in this country is wrong. All those concerns about chicken being “pumped full” of hormones are unfounded. Hormone use in poultry and pork is illegal in the US.  If you will read the fine print on the packages at the store, you will find that is precisely what it says. For the sake of brevity, I will not get into my aggravation at the term “hormone-free”. That will have to be a separate post sometime in the future. The rapid growth of the broilers is a matter of breeding and nutrition, not any sort of terrible manipulation on the part of the growers. It is indeed a good thing. (but, the discussion tends to get long and divisive, so I will leave it here)

time to harvest the broilers

Early Monday morning of broiler week has us out at the field pen catching the birds ready for processing. They are crated and brought up to the house for processing (butchering) in the backyard. Then on Tuesday, the brooder is cleaned in anticipation of the arrival of day-old chicks on Wednesday.
day-old chicks 

…the cycle continues through early November when we end broiler production for the winter months. 

It is satisfying work to produce delicious, nutritious food for ourselves and others.

But, there was far more to completing this particular batch of broilers than just putting food in the freezer or stocking the Market freezer with inventory…

Eight weeks ago, as these chicks hatched from their eggs, we were trying to wrap our heads around the fact that the Boss was headed over the mountain to UVA for surgery. Cancer surgery. The diagnosis had been shocking enough, but now we found ourselves headed to a place that conjures frightening memories as well as facing the Boss’ biggest fear…his worst nightmare was our reality. In less than two weeks he had gone from our local doctor’s office and diagnosis to the operating room.

Scary times.

It was too late to change the scheduled delivery. We would just have to muddle through, make the best of it and carry on. In some ways, our plan for this batch of broilers seemed to represent our life situation.   …muddling through and making the best of it…

The knowledge that the tiny birds would be arriving at the Post Office in the early morning meant that I had to leave him in the hospital hours after surgery and head back home at the very literal crack of dawn. I must admit, I had never driven over the mountain alone. And, the dark conjured memories of that horrible night back in ’10 when the Boss and I had to leave our gravely injured eldest daughter in the hands of a trauma team. I gave myself a serious little personal pep talk there in the parking lot, turned on the headlights, cranked the stereo and “hied meself” back to the Valley.
my early morning arrival took the dogs by surprise

It was bitterly cold, so I  tucked chicks into the chickie pool in the shop and returned to the Boss’ bedside. Then, it was a juggling act to check on him and attempt to keep the home fires burning until his return. Thankfully, his hospital stay was fairly short.

While the Boss continued to recover at home, I was responsible for chores. All the chores.

you just "do what you gotta do"

More than one person has asked me how I did it. To them it seemed like such hard work. To me, the work was the one thing that brought some sense of normalcy. Work (accompanied by loud music) has always been my therapy. Quite honestly, the work isn’t the hard part…the fear of the unknown is.

Incredibly, some good came from my time doing chores solo. Working alone, I had to come up with some new ways to do things. Because, as the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. It turns out there is actually an easier, less stressful way to move the small broilers to the field pen. one bird.

We may have never known this if I hadn’t had to do this job by myself. And, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I was completely responsible for this batch, from start to finish…and I only lost ONE bird!

and only had one "escapee"!

So, this batch of broilers represents lessons learned, strengths recognized, new methods embraced and healing milestones. Not bad for a bunch of “bird-brains”!

We did get some help with processing...
THANKS, Blondie!

We even had time for some visitors this week...
Kman is totally ready to take over the mowing

MrB says
"I got this, Grandpa!"

The eight-week milestone means that the Boss is (in his words) back to 95% of his normal activities. We can put many of our cares and concerns behind us and go on with “normal” life. There are scans and tests scheduled for the future. (and honestly, the possibilities are more than a little worrisome) But, for right now, we can focus on the positive and go on with the growing season.

However, I must admit…our definition of “normal” may be a little skewed…

Case in point…

The Boss headed out to do morning chores before I did. By the time I got outside, he had the big, barn trash can out front and was digging through the contents with a pitchfork.

there has GOT to be a story to this one!

WHAT on earth are you doing?

There is something in this can!

(not anymore!   He was throwing stuff everywhere…but, I didn’t want to state the obvious)

As he continued to dig, I saw a rat wriggling through the handle-hole of the can.
see the rat down there at the bottom?

There he goes!

When I exclaimed, the dogs suddenly started paying attention. A free-for-all ensued as dogs and humans chased the rat through the grass. Yes, it looked just as ridiculous as you are imagining.

they got him cornered now

In the blink of an eye, Ellie grabbed that rat and shook it violently. The incident was over.

to the conqueror go the spoils

The Boss and I cheered…and laughed as Ellie proudly took her prize to the orchard to enjoy. (eww, blech)

…and then we wondered aloud just how many folks start their day with a rat-killing…and then cheer about it…?

On second thought…NORMAL should never be used to describe this place. Ever.

But, things have gotten back to the regular, the expected. We are actually back on track and working according to our plan, despite the unexpected turn of events eight weeks ago. (it hardly seems like EIGHT weeks…although in other ways, it seems like a lifetime)

 still needs a little help with the broiler pen

time to work the lambs

tractor tilling 
tilling the brassica garden

Personally, I’m all about the sameness…the mundane and monotonous.  There’s something to be said for the comfort of a routine.

Even Ellie looks nice under a beautiful sky at the end of a productive day

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

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

Want to see the Boss’ Market shots? Click HERE.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 5-14

tiny mulberries in the sunlight
Living in the country, you quickly understand why “good fences make good neighbors” and how it is far more than simply proper etiquette to always SHUT the farm gate.

Over the years, we’ve amassed a great deal of personal experience with animals...and not just our own. To say we’ve had some “interesting” encounters would be putting it mildly. A trip to town used to involve a herd of goats that either had to be “un-stuck” from the fence or herded back across the road. More than once, we’ve joined in an impromptu cattle round-up (I only wish I could do a better job telling THIS story! ) On a spring day years ago, the Boss and our daughters rounded up some escaped pigs and accompanied them to their home...right past the “pig-hating” neighbor’s house. At one time a good portion of the neighborhood was involved in a three-day search for an escaped parrot. Yes, I did say parrot. Sadly, he was never captured. It is unclear whether he soared with the eagles or ended up as their supper. In addition, there have been stories of bears and foxes and even a three-legged skunk.

All that to say, you should probably be prepared for anything...

The week started in a fairly unremarkable, albeit chilly, fashion. That cold snap I mentioned last week was really cold. The potato plants were frozen solid! Knowing that everything would recover, we could focus on other things, like “flipping” the farm.

frozen potato plant

frosty grass

frozen berries

part of morning chores includes a crop check
...broccoli looks FINE!

The recent repeated rains have made for abundant grass growth. Such abundant growth that the sheep, particularly the lambs, cannot keep up with it all. It was time to shift the voracious ewes from the small, back paddocks to the large front paddocks. We limit their grass intake right after weaning to reduce any chances of mastitis. But, once they are “dry”, they need to regain their body condition prior to breeding, so they head to greener pastures.

This switch went off with little difficulty. Put the lambs in the barn, show the ewes the lush, green grass...and that job is done!

this is the darkest "black sheep" ever!
However, we removed the two late lambs from the ewe flock, and put them in with the rest of the lambs. No big deal, they cried a little and returned to grazing. Their mothers, on the other hand, stood in the alleyway (outside the office window) and yelled for the better part of two days. I had been having second thoughts about my whole late season breeding experiment and that pretty much clinched it. The problems of late season lambs far outweigh any benefits. I’ll be sticking with the tried and true methods that have worked for us in the past.

It was beautiful and clear and the Boss was eager to return to his normal farm duties. The further we get from that scary date in March, the closer we get to our regular rhythm and routine. He had been talking about using his new electric weed-whacker for some time. And, he really wanted to get in hoophouse #2 to pull weeds. You know you’ve been out of action for far too long if you’re looking forward to WEEDS.

braving the hoophouse

weeding the onions

newly weeded onion bed

I can’t say that I was looking forward to weeds...but, the bright, dry weather was perfect for some very necessary weed eradication. There are huge patches of stinging nettles in odd and random places around the farm. Stinging nettles are a fairly nasty plant. None of the animals will eat them, as they STING when touched. the burning, itching sensation lasts for hours and in some cases, causes big red welts and blisters.
stinging nettles

I feel oddly responsible for this invasion. Years ago, while studying herbalism, I amassed a great variety of plants to treat various and sundry ailments. Stinging nettles are actually quite nutritious and offer a great number of healing properties (if you can get past the whole stinging thing) I planted a small patch next to the house in hopes of eventually addressing any and all our health concerns herbally. However, life concerns took my attention elsewhere and the nettles were forgotten.
Now there are nettles everywhere. Yet another good thing gone wrong.

Since nothing (and I mean nothing) eats nettles, we cannot leave them to take over the fields. Weed eradication is a time-consuming task with little reward. Your choices are simple, either physical or chemical. Physical eradication may take the form of hoeing, tilling, chopping. Sometimes this actually perpetuates the problem as you spread seeds and/or viable rootstock/rhizomes. Chemical weed eradication means the spraying some sort of chemical solution that some folks seem to equate with drenching the environment with poisons. While this post isn’t the place to get into a deep explanation, I can assure "drenching the environment in poisons" is NOT the case, no matter the operation.
weed killer

To eradicate the nettles (and thistles) in the fields where the animals graze, their welfare is our first concern. Many herbicides can cause digestive upset, among other things, so we generally avoid their usage where food (for animals or humans) is grown, although they do have their place on the farm. We have found that using a strong vinegar solution (which for the record IS a chemical), then sprinkling with salt will take care of the issue (at least for the season). Interestingly, the sheep seem to like the slightly wilted, vinegar-salted plants.

after treating with vinegar and salt

Since the sprayer is fairly heavy I really didn’t think the Boss should tackle that job until his core muscles recover, so I spent a fair amount of time tramping around the farm with the backpack sprayer full of vinegar and a bucket of salt, doing battle with the nettles invasion. By the end of the day, my feet and back were sore (the sprayer weighs about 40 pounds fully loaded) my hand had dried out from the salt...and I’m pretty sure I smelled like a pickle. But, the job was completed and the strong Spring sunshine would make short work of the weeds. However, it felt good to take off my boots, clean up and focus on making supper.

But, the phone rang and the gentleman at the other end wanted some lamb chops. Today. Like right now! He said that some other customer-friends had highly recommended our product and he needed them...he would be passing by on his way to Lexington in about a half hour…

Now, I’m not one to turn down a lamb chop order (particularly a sizeable one), so I told him I’d meet him at the top of the driveway. He said he’d call upon his arrival. I figured I’d grab my flipflops, complete the sale and come back to supper prep.

The Boss spotted him turning in the lane, so we both headed up to the gate prior to his call. As we got closer to the gate, he called to say he was here, but he was not alone. He said there were also two CALVES at the top of the driveway! There they were, wandering down the lane, nibbling the grass as they went. 
out for a stroll

Lambchop delivery completed, the Boss thought we should do something about the calves…supper could wait, right?

Neighbor’s gate was opened, so if we just eased those calves in there...

...and we were off, chasing calves. …before supper…in my flipflops...

It was about now that I wished I had left my boots on, sore feet or not. Because, in case you didn’t know...flipflops are not the proper footwear for cattle herding. They were flipping and flopping and making it hard to hurry as they slipped around under my feet.

“Come ON!”

Unaware of my flipflop dilemma, the Boss wanted me to stand in the gap as the first calf came past and then trot along behind and shut the gate. Herding livestock, particularly someone else’s, with your spouse is a testy proposition at best. I learned a long time ago to just attempt to do what I am told while keeping my mouth shut. (not always the easiest proposition)   I must admit while scrambling over the board fence, I may have been heard to mutter some version of, “I am seriously too old for this stuff!” Leaving my flipflops along the side of neighbor’s drive, I hurried along behind the Boss and the calves.
"right outta my shoes"
I can honestly say I never did any barefoot herding before!

The calves went through the opened gate with no problem. We herded them into the corral by the barn, only to find that there were FOUR more milling about there. WHAT THE HECK? A hurried phone conversation with neighbor hadn’t revealed any info other than we could shut them in his field.

By working the angles (and closing every opened gate on the property) we moved the herd into a small corral by the barn.  We left them there, wondering all the way home where they came from, whose they were. Only then did the Boss notice my bare feet. He simply shook his head when we had to pause to pick up my flipflops at the edge of the driveway.

runaway steers

Later, we found out that they were indeed neighbor’s newest acquisition from the sale barn the day before. Apparently, he missed shutting a few gates, or the calves figured out how to open them… Well, all’s well that ends well.

But if there is any moral of this story, it is that I should definitely leave a different pair of shoes by the kitchen door!

The rest of the week paled in comparison to bare-foot cattle herding. Thankfully.

Rain returned on Thursday. And Friday. And, of course, Saturday. While I know better than to complain about rain…soggy Market days are getting a little tiresome.  
soggy lambs

with nearly four inches of rain in the past week...
MUD is the story 

That didn’t seem to matter to the customers. Mothers’ Day weekend is always a big day for sales, so it was a good thing that we finally had lettuce, spinach, kale and chard. This was the first week all season that we have had enough to set up our entire vegetable stand and some people honestly thought it was the first time we had made it to the Market this year, proving that we are indeed unrecognizable without our farm sign and stand. I find that more than a little amusing after spending twenty years’ worth of Saturdays (minus one) in the same spot.

returning to "normal" at the Market

I need to add a shout-out to my daughters for the Mothers’ Day cards and gifts, to Bonnie for the chocolate…and to Cheri for the CD. My heart is full.

a beautiful morning

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by…come “visit” us again real soon.

...oops...almost forgot to include the link to the Boss' Market shots...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 5-7

looks like Gus is watching the sunrise
(in fact, he's got his eye on a fox)
For weeks now, I’ve been looking for some sense of light at the end of the tunnel, some sort of sign that things are getting back to normal and we’re on our way to putting this behind us.

…and for weeks now, that has eluded me.

Maybe it’s time to stop looking and simply go on, making the best of the situation at hand.  
When we’re out there working together, it’s quite easy to forget about the events of the past six weeks, the concerns of the past six months. So... it’s time to just get on with life. Adjust to the “new normal” and work the plan. The surgeon says the healing process is complete. The Boss says he feels good. Yep…it’s time to stop worrying over what might happen and just BE in the moment.

swallowtail on lilac bush

Maybe this seems possible because any current problems seemed to pale in comparison to last week. The Boss has resumed many of his regular duties. The animals behaved, there were no cooked seedlings and personal meltdowns were held to a minimum. And, I think I may just have a handle on the health issues that have been dogging me for a long time.

on the way to Market

The fact that the CD player in the car bit the dust in a dramatic fashion seems barely worth mentioning. Talk about a first-world problem! But, I keep thinking how grateful I am that it didn’t go out while he was in the hospital. Quite honestly, I don’t know if I could have made the repeated solo trips over the mountain without Kenny Chesney’s "Cosmic Hallelujah"  (which is currently imprisoned in my broken CD player) I have no idea why this album helped me “find my zen” despite the frightening scenario and  the dreaded commute over the mountain with all its traffic issues. Maybe it was just a way to accept the whole situation…

 Well they say the sea is rising, well that's alright with me
'Cause there ain't no other place than on the sea I'd rather be
And that second comet's comin', it's right around the bend
And some day could be any day this world is gonna end
But that's alright, that's okay

There ain't nothin we can do about the whole thing anyway

We're just a hands-up roller coaster flyin' with no brakes.
We're just a speck of salt rollin' down a tidal wave.
We're just a Babe Ruth baseball hit over the wall.
We're just a drop of rain over a waterfall.

It's a hang on kinda ride,
We're spinning through space and time,
Rockin' this big old rock just tryna have some fun...

Let's take another crazy trip around the sun

Music has always been my therapy. It provides me focus or grants me comfort in ways nothing else does. So, to say I am relieved that the Boss says he can even do the repair work (saving us some serious $) is somewhat of an understatement.

But, maybe we really are making progress. Maybe we have gotten over this hurdle and can begin to move on with our plans…

...maybe there really is light at the end of the tunnel...maybe we just need to look for it...

morning light through the pines

Back in December as we were mapping out the gardens and making our plans for the year, the Boss assured me that “this would be the year...!” So far, 2017, has definitely been one for the record-books, just not the way he was predicting. But, maybe, just maybe things are improving.

sick plants
When all the brassica plants in the greenhouse began to look sickly back in early March, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. (I really didn't need any more "issues" at the time) The Boss was called in for a consult. But, he was just as confounded. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach grew as I watched all the leaves turn yellow, wither and fall off. No new leaves grew and approximately 95% of the crop withered and died despite my best efforts. I wanted to sit down and cry (or at the very least throw something). But, my only recourse was to try again. New flats, new potting mix and we were off again. This time the little plants thrived. (our best guess as to the problem was that somehow the potting soil had been contaminated---it was free because of the big hole in the bag---) But we were running at least two weeks behind…
healthy plants waiting to go in the garden

Setbacks, changes in plans and flat-out failures just go with the territory. You make a note of it and go on. Generally, our biggest issues are somehow weather-related. After 20 years of planting here on the hill, we have learned that patience is indeed a virtue and we’re not at all aggressive in our planting schedule.  We long ago stopped trying to be first to Market with certain crops. We’d rather be assured of success than take a chance with the weather. The plan was to put the brassicas in the garden during the week of April 18th. That didn’t happen.

Brassica planting day 2017 was May 3rd.
brassica planting day 2017

Considering that nearly all the plants died, the Boss had major surgery AND we had copious amounts of rain in the past month, we were amazed that we got the planting done at all. But, to just be two weeks behind…now, that may just qualify as a miracle! And, the plants were the perfect size.  (if the first plants had survived, they would have been far larger, terribly root-bound and may not have survived the transplanting) I guess everything really does work out in the long run.

marking the row

the plants are dipped in organic fertilizer

...and then hand-planted

All done!
praying for rain

Oh, and did I mention that we beat the rain? The day after we planted about 900 broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants we received nearly 2 inches of rain. So, the plants are off to a great start. In about 6 weeks, we should begin harvesting.

well-watered broccoli

The Boss even got some beans seeded, getting us even closer to our original schedule.
seeding beans

When the rain set in, I headed to the hoophouse. I am finally beginning to see some progress in #1. It’s been a long, hard haul but I’ve gotten a little more than half of the beds planted. I hesitate to say this out loud, but we may even have some greens for next week’s Market…
I was in my "work zone" and had no idea I was being photographed!
(until I downloaded my camera card)

Hoophouse #2 is a different story.

inside hoophouse #2

If I tell you we’re taking a different course with this structure, it may sound like I’m trying to put a positive spin on the fact that it presently looks like…well, it’s been abandoned and being reclaimed by nature…which I suppose is precisely what is happening.  But, if you can get beyond the mess, it’s kind of fascinating to see. Some weeds are truly beautiful.
wild lettuce seedhead

We really do have a plan and hope to get to executing some of that this week. (stay tuned for details)

Presently we are experiencing a bit of a lull in activity. Seeds have been started, but we are awaiting germination. It’s too early/too wet for a lot of outdoor work. The lambs are just growing...

Here they come!

following the shepherd

The broilers are just eating/growing—but, next week will be another “week of the chicken”. Since the Boss is slowly returning to his regular duties, I have no real idea what is up with the other chickens. I’m just thankful I don’t have to deal with broody hens!

Believe me
she is NOT a nice chicken! 

wet lilac
We had rain for Saturday’s Market (again). You can see the Boss' photos HERE.

If I have said it once, I’ve probably said it a million times…RAIN is NOT the forecast word you want to hear when you make your living at an open-air Market. But, since there is nothing one can do about the weather, you simply make the best of it. and, I’m here to tell you that this year isn’t as bad as we have seen it. One season (I think it was ’99) it rained for TEN Saturdays in a row. TEN. Fortunately, that record is not in danger this season.

The rain ushered in Blackberry Winter that took a lot of folks by surprise. I really don’t know why. Nearly every year we have a cold, damp spell in early to mid-May where we begin to wonder if those warm days of April were some sort of cruel joke. Sweaters and jackets must come back out of storage and smoke hangs in the hollows as those who heat with wood fire up the stove for what they hope is one last time. The old-timers say that this cold snap is necessary to the future bramble production (hence the term blackberry winter) and it generally only lasts three days. But, for those who put their tender plants in the garden during the beautiful warm days, it can be more than a little stressful.

this blossom represents a BLT in the future

There is a chance of frost again tonight and tomorrow, making us glad that we left the tomato plants in the greenhouse for a little while longer.

tomatoes in the greenhouse
The young brassica plants can handle the cold, and while the potato plants may get nipped back a little, they will indeed survive.
potato sprouts
(look closely, there is a potato beetle eating the plant BEFORE it emerges
guess pest eradication is another job for the week)

Weather is indeed the biggest challenge in this whole deal.

Today's cool, cloudy weather gives me a chance to catch up on some much-needed indoor cleaning…and perhaps a little down-time which is also much-needed.

watching the sunset

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

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